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NASA Confirms DART Mission Impact Changed Asteroid’s Motion in Space

After impact by DART spacecraft, Dimorphos asteroid tail has changed

Analysis shows NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) kinetic impact with its target asteroid, Dimorphos, successfully altered the asteroid’s orbit. This marks humanity’s first time purposely changing the motion of a celestial object and the first full-scale demonstration of asteroid deflection technology.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson explained the importance of the mission’s success:

“All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet. After all, it’s the only one we have. This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us. NASA has proven we are serious as a defender of the planet. This is a watershed moment for planetary defense and all of humanity, demonstrating commitment from NASA’s exceptional team and partners from around the world.”

Prior to DART’s impact, it took Dimorphos 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit its larger parent asteroid, Didymos. Since DART’s intentional collision with Dimorphos on Sept. 26, astronomers have been using telescopes on Earth to measure how much that time has changed. Now, the investigation team has confirmed the spacecraft’s impact altered Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by 32 minutes, shortening the 11 hour and 55-minute orbit to 11 hours and 23 minutes. This measurement has a margin of uncertainty of approximately plus or minus 2 minutes.

Before its encounter, NASA had defined a minimum successful orbit period change of Dimorphos as a change of 73 seconds or more. This early data show DART surpassed this minimum benchmark by more than 25 times.

The investigation team is still acquiring data with ground-based observatories around the world – as well as with radar facilities at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Goldstone planetary radar in California and the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. They are updating the period measurement with frequent observations to improve its precision.

Focus now is shifting toward measuring the efficiency of momentum transfer from DART’s roughly 14,000-mile (22,530-kilometer) per hour collision with its target. This includes further analysis of the “ejecta” – the many tons of asteroidal rock displaced and launched into space by the impact. The recoil from this blast of debris substantially enhanced DART’s push against Dimorphos – a little like a jet of air streaming out of a balloon sends the balloon in the opposite direction.

To successfully understand the effect of the recoil from the ejecta, more information about the asteroid’s physical properties, such as the characteristics of its surface, and how strong or weak it is, is needed. These issues are still being investigated.

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

After impact by DART spacecraft, Dimorphos asteroid tail has changed via NASA by NASA/ESA/STScI/Hubble with usage type - Public Domain

Featured Image Credit

After impact by DART spacecraft, Dimorphos asteroid tail has changed via NASA by NASA/ESA/STScI/Hubble with usage type - Public Domain

 

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