Bizarre! Shocking Asteroid Dimorphos behaviour just caught NASA attention

Asteroid Dimorphos, hit by NASA's DART mission spacecraft, has surprised scientists with its strange post-collision behavior, intriguing astronomers.

| Updated on: Sep 18 2023, 16:41 IST
DART spacecraft
Asteroid Dimorphos' mysterious behavior after NASA collision puzzles scientists. (AP)
DART spacecraft
Asteroid Dimorphos' mysterious behavior after NASA collision puzzles scientists. (AP)

NASA had crashed a spaceraft into an asteroid called Dimorphos to change its orbit. The mission, called DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test), was quite successful as it changed the orbit of the asteroid. However, the asteroid is now acting oddly, and it has piqued the interest of astronomers and even high school students. In fact, it was these students who made a surprising discovery while researching NASA's DART mission in the Didymos System. Notably, Asteroid Dimorphos is part of a double asteroid system along with the larger asteroid called Didymos. Dimorphos orbits around Didymos.

Peculiar Orbital Changes

Initially, after the crash, NASA believed everything was fine, but a high school teacher named Jonathan Swift and his students disagreed. They noticed that Dimorphos was not behaving as expected after the collision, TOI reported.

Dimorphos, post-collision, started rotating strangely while sticking to its regular path around its parent asteroid. Instead of speeding up, its orbit was shrinking, which astronomers found quite unusual.

Differing Observations

Swift and his students used a telescope to track Dimorphos and found that its orbital speed had slowed down by 33 minutes several weeks after the collision. This slowdown continued at a rate of 1 minute per period. However, their calculations didn't match NASA's observations exactly, showing a 34-minute slowdown.

Jonathan Swift stated, "Our number was slightly different, a change of 34 minutes. That was unsettling."

DART's Mission

NASA's DART team confirmed that Dimorphos was indeed slowing down after the collision, but they calculated an additional slowdown of only 15 seconds, not a full minute. This slowdown stabilized over time.

To understand this strange behavior, it appears that Dimorphos slowed down because of the collision. Some of its fragments scattered along its path, causing it to slow down when it passed through them again and again. After about a month, when it had passed all these obstacles, it resumed its regular motion without changing speed, reaching a state of equilibrium.

In 2026, the European Space Agency's spacecraft, 'Hera,' is set to arrive at Dimorphos, which could provide more insights into this phenomenon.

The DART mission was designed to test NASA's ability to change the path of an asteroid, demonstrating its capability to protect Earth from potential asteroid threats. By crashing into Dimorphos, it gave us valuable data on how asteroids can be deflected, contributing to our understanding of celestial objects. If successful, it sets an example of global cooperation in planetary defense, ensuring our planet's safety from potential asteroid impacts.

This isn't the first time that NASA's DART mission has had unexpected outcomes, but the collision with Dimorphos has unveiled new findings, shedding light on previously unknown aspects of the mission's impact.

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First Published Date: 18 Sep, 16:41 IST