NASA: DART mission successfully altered motion of asteroid Dimorphos

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The Double Asteroid Redirection Test successfully altered the trajectory of asteroid Dimorphos when the NASA spacecraft intentionally smashed into space rock on Sept. 26, the agency said.

The DART mission, a full-scale demonstration of deflection technology, was the world’s first conducted on behalf of planetary defense. The mission also marked the first time mankind intentionally altered the motion of a celestial object in space.

Prior to impact, Dimorphos took 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit its larger parent asteroid Didymos. Astronomers used ground-based telescopes to measure how Dimorphos’ orbit changed after the impact.

Now it takes Dimorphos 11 hours and 23 minutes to circumnavigate Didymos. The DART spacecraft has changed the moonlet asteroid Orbit around 32 minutes.

Originally, astronomers expected that DART would be successful if it shortened the trajectory by 10 minutes.

“We all have a responsibility to protect our home planet. After all, it’s the only one we have,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

“This mission shows that NASA is trying to be prepared for whatever the universe throws at us. NASA has proven that we mean business as defenders of the planet. This is a turning point for planetary defense and all of humanity, demonstrating the dedication of the extraordinary NASA team and partners from around the world.”

The Hubble Space Telescope captured an image of debris blasting off the surface of Dimorphos 285 hours after the October 8 impact.

Neither Dimorphos nor Didymos pose a threat to Earth, but the dual asteroid system was a perfect target to test diversion technology, according to the DART team.

“For the first time ever, mankind has altered the orbit of a planetary object,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

“As new data arrives every day, astronomers can better assess whether and how a mission like DART could help protect Earth from a collision with an asteroid in the future, if we ever spot one coming our way.” ”

The DART team continues to collect data by observing the binary asteroid system, and the orbital measurement could become more accurate in the future. There is currently an uncertainty of plus or minus two minutes.

A new image of Dimorphos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope shows that the comet-like tail of the debris trail has split in two. Scientists are still working to understand the meaning of the fission.

The team is now focused on measuring how much momentum has been transferred from DART to Dimorphos. At the time of impact, the spacecraft was traveling at about 14,000 miles per hour (22,530 kilometers per hour). Astronomers will analyze the amount of rock and dust thrown into space after the impact.

The DART team believes the recoil from the cloud “substantially amplifies” the spacecraft’s push against the asteroid, similar to how the release of air from a balloon propels it in the opposite direction, according to NASA.

“Although we’ve done more to the system than just change orbit, we may have wobbled Dimorphos a bit,” said Tom Statler, NASA’s DART program scientist. “So over time there can be an interaction between wobble and orbit and things will adjust. But it will certainly never go back to the old 11 hour 55 minute orbit.”

Astronomers are still studying the surface of Dimorphos and how faint or strong it is. The DART team’s first view of Dimorphos, provided by DART before the crash, suggests the asteroid is a pile of debris held together by gravity.

Images continue to return from the Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids, or LICIACube, the Italian Space Agency’s mini-satellite that flew on DART’s mission as a robotic photojournalist.

In about four years, the European Space Agency’s Hera mission will also fly by the binary asteroid system to study the crater created by the collision and measure the mass of Dimorphos.

“DART has given us some fascinating data on both the properties of asteroids and the effectiveness of a kinetic impactor as a planetary defense technology,” said Nancy Chabot, the DART coordinator at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “The DART team continues to work on this rich dataset to fully understand this first planetary defense test of asteroid deflection.”

The research team chose Dimorphos for this mission because its size is comparable to asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth. An asteroid the size of Dimorphos could wreak “regional devastation” if it hits Earth.

Near-Earth objects are asteroids and comets with an orbit that places them within 30 million miles (48.3 million kilometers) of Earth. Detecting the threat of near-Earth objects that could cause severe damage is a major focus for NASA and other space agencies around the world.

There are currently no asteroids on a direct impact course with Earth, but there are more than 27,000 near-Earth asteroids of all shapes and sizes.

Finding populations of dangerous asteroids and determining their size are priorities for NASA and its international partners. The design for a space-based telescope called the Near-Earth Object Surveyor is currently under review.

“We shouldn’t be too eager to say that a test on one asteroid will tell us exactly how any other asteroid would behave in a similar situation,” Statler said. “But we can use this test as an anchor point for our physics calculations in our simulations, which tell us how different types of impact should behave in different situations.”

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