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MSU helps NASA confirm successful asteroid redirection

Emma Dugan, outside in front of the MSU Observatory, smiling and giving a thumbs up by a telescope
Michael D-L Jordan
Senior Emma Dugan is part of the MSU Observatory Research Team which recently worked with NASA.

Researchers at Michigan State University have helped NASA confirm that a recent attempt to change the path of an asteroid was successful.

It sounds like the stuff of movies: the fate of the planet hinges on smashing an uncrewed spacecraft into an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

Last October, NASA sent such a craft into Dimorphos, an asteroid orbiting another asteroid called Didymos, at 13,000 miles per hour.

The asteroid did not pose an actual threat to Earth.

Still, MSU planetary scientist Seth Jacobson calls the Double Asteroid Redirect Test, or DART, “humanity’s first successful … planetary defense space mission. "

"It was really exciting, because our undergraduate students got to participate and be involved in this scientific project," he said.

Light measurements taken at the MSU Observatory helped prove the orbit of Dimorphos around Didymos was shortened by more than a half-hour.

“We were involved in both those light curve measurements, but also seeing how dust was created from the impact, and how much dust or ejecta was being created," he said.

"That’s intimately tied up with this idea of momentum transfer because some of that dust that’s blown away is carrying momentum with it.”

Jacobson says the MSU Observatory took measurements that showed the orbit of Dimorphos around Didymos had been changed by 32 minutes.

The impact occurred 7,000,000 miles from earth.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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