8th December 2023 12:02 pm
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DART kicked a million kilograms of dirt into space

  • NASA has published five papers in Nature about its Double Asteroid Redirection Test.
  • The test was successful thanks in part to the collision happening just 25m from the asteroid’s centre.
  • Research and observations continue but NASA is confident that this is a solution to any would-be cosmic threats.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) saw NASA throwing 570kg of spacecraft at an asteroid in hopes of redirecting it.

That test turned out to be a massive success with DART successfully shifting the orbit of the Dimorphos asteroid around the larger Didymos asteroid by around 33 minutes compared to before the collision.

Now, NASA has published five studies analysing data and images from the test in Nature.

There is a lot to unpack but some of the highlights include DART’s solar panels being the first part of the $330 million spacecraft to hit the asteroid. Is that of any consequence? Not really but it’s pretty impressive that boffins at NASA were able to figure that out.

Among the more impressive facts is the amount of debris DART sent flying into space. According to Nature, the impact ejected one million kilograms of rock. The asteroid is estimated to have a mass of 4.3 billion kilograms.

The researchers also found that one of the reasons the redirection was so successful was because the spacecraft hit a spot said to be 25 metres away from Dimorphos’ centre.

This, together with the momentum created by the spray of rubble, added as much as four times the momentum of DART to the asteroid.

“If you had asked me 30 years ago, ‘Can we be confident we won’t be wiped out by a giant killer asteroid a week from next Tuesday?’ I would have had to say no,” DART’s programme scientist at NASA, Tom Statler, told Nature.

Now Statler says that humans will know what to do should a new asteroid that presents a danger is found.

The research and observations of Dimorphos continues along with a team of amateur astronomers lead by Franck Marchis at the SETI Institute. One observation that may be of interest is the colour of the asteroid shifting from red to blue after the impact.

These folks will be able to get a closer look at the impact when the Hera mission commissioned by the European Space Agency arrives in 2026. This mission will launch next year and has the goal of conducting a post-impact survey on Dimorphos.

[Image – University of Canterbury Ōtehīwai Mt John Observatory/UCNZ]

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Beats include cybersecurity, business, infrastructure, telecommunications, PC gaming and internet culture.

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