MSU working with NASA to save the planet

NASA’s first DART mission was a success
Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 7:24 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - In the movie Don’t Look Up, a fictitious scientist from Michigan State University tries to save the world from being destroyed by an incoming comet. But did you know there are real researchers at MSU who are working with NASA to protect the Earth from asteroids?

In the first mission of its kind, MSU students have confirmed the success of redirecting incoming space rocks that could threaten the planet. Students shared insight as to how this is possible.

“This was like NASA’s DART mission so, that was the whole point of this. They sent a spacecraft with the sole purpose of crashing into an asteroid,” said Emma Dugan, a senior astrophysics major in the College of Natural Science.

When she’s not studying planets beyond our solar system, Dugan practices saving the Earth.

“What are we going to do if an asteroid is going to hit Earth? Like, that’s kind of a big thing we would want to avoid if possible,” Dugan said. “So this is really important if we find an asteroid that is kind of on that trajectory to hit Earth – we now have a way to deflect it and change its path.”

Dugan and her colleagues led the data observation at MSU’s Observatory. Planetary Scientist Seth Jacobson said the student’s data was incorporated into NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).

“This is the first time anyone has ever done an asteroid redirect mission.”

Jacobson said students and researchers monitored the asteroid system. He said they did this “for days and weeks and even months after the impact event.” He said the mission was a hands-on experience for a future generation of astronomers, like Dugan.

“That’s amazing to know that the data we’re getting with our small observatory at MSU, that it can contribute to a large project like that. Being in collaboration with a project this big that has never been done before and we get to have some small contribution to it, is really cool,” said Dugan.

Jacobson recently contributed to a published article explaining how NASA successfully knocked a near-Earth asteroid off of its initial path.

This was a trial mission. Earth was not in any immediate danger.

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