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Astronomers celebrate the successful collision of a spacecraft into an asteroid's moon

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Melissa Sevigny
/
KNAU
Astronomers Teddy Kareta and Nick Moskovitz at Lowell Observatory look at the images of Dimorphos in the moments after the asteroid was impacted by the DART spacecraft.

Scientists celebrated the destruction of NASA’s DART spacecraft yesterday when it crashed—deliberately—into the surface of an asteroid. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny was on hand at Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory to capture the excitement of Earth’s first-ever planetary defense test.

A buzz of anticipation filled the room where astronomers and community members gathered to watch the live images sent by the DART spacecraft as it approached a pair of asteroids almost 7 million miles from Earth. The final frame showed the rubble-strewn surface of the smaller object, Dimorphos … before the screen went blank and the crowd erupted into cheers.

Lowell astronomers Nick Moskovitz and Teddy Kareta were among those celebrating. "It looked like everything worked perfectly… Those last couple of images were just incredible," Moskovitz said.

Kareta added, "Thirty minutes ago it was dot, right? and then we got to see it become a world, and then the camera exploded. What a job we have, oh my god!"

Moskovitz and Kareta, along with astronomers around the world, will now study Dimorphos through powerful telescopes on the ground to see how the spacecraft’s impact affected the asteroid’s orbit.

It’s the first ever attempt to move an asteroid, as a way to test whether it’s possible to deflect dangerous objects away from Earth.

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Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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