NASA’s DART Mission Successfully Alters Asteroid’s Orbit
NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was a successful planetary defense mission to test whether the orbit of an asteroid could be altered by crashing a spacecraft into it. On September 26, 2022, the DART spacecraft made an impact with a tiny asteroid moon called Dimorphos, which circles a bigger asteroid known as Didymos. The results of the experiment were published in the journal Nature, alongside four additional scientific reports.
The impact remarkably shortened Dimorphos' orbit by about 33 minutes — more than 25 times the minimum benchmark for mission success. Simultaneously, the debris liberated formed a tail that extended over 1,500 kilometers. For roughly three weeks, the team used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the tail, and they discovered that its shape was much like that of “active asteroids,” which have a comet-like tail and an asteroid-like orbit. This indicates that impacts can act as triggers for asteroids.
Scheduled for an October 2024 liftoff, the European Space Agency's Hera mission will be returning to the Didymos-Dimorphos system to evaluate further the DART experiment's outcomes. The resulting crater is of particular interest. According to Cheng, the crater might be so immense that it appears to be more than just a crater; the DART mission could have removed a substantial portion of the impacted side. The impact of Didymos on Dimorphos had the potential to cause the asteroid to enter a chaotic tumbling state, whereas prior to the impact, the object had been tidally locked to Didymos. Hera will look into this as well as other unresolved queries.
The Hubble clip reveals how the collision turned Dimorphos into an “active asteroid,” a space rock that orbits like an asteroid but has a tail of material like a comet. It has been speculated by scientists for some time that active asteroids originate from impacts, but this is the first occasion in which such a transformation has been observed in the present.
Researchers led by Terik Daly, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, provided a point-by-point reconstruction of DART’s approach, impact, and fallout on Dimorphos, and concluded that “the resulting change in Dimorphos's orbit demonstrates that kinetic impactor technology is a viable technique to potentially defend Earth if necessary.
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