Did the historic NASA DART crash change the orbit of asteroid Dimorphos? | Tech News

Did the historic NASA DART crash change the orbit of asteroid Dimorphos?

Now that the historic NASA DART mission has been successfully completed, how long will it take to know whether asteroid Dimorphos has changed its orbit?

| Updated on: Sep 27 2022, 10:24 IST
NASA DART Mission in pics: Amazing Attack on Asteroid!
1/6 NASA with its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission spacecraft is all set to collide with a non-hazardous asteroid called Dimorphos in order to test planetary defence on Monday, September 26. The learnings from this asteroid attack will be used to protect Earth from asteroids that are heading for a collision with our planet. According to NASA, this will be the world's first mission to deflect an asteroid in space. NASA’s DART, built and managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, will demonstrate and test asteroid deflection by kinetic impactor. (Bloomberg)
2/6 Dimorphos, the asteroid moonlet of Didymos poses no threat to Earth. The DART spacecraft had recently got its first look at Didymos, the double-asteroid system that includes its target, Dimorphos. It is being said that in 2024, the European Space Agency (ESA) will send a space probe to Dimorphos as part of the space mission HERA. The aim of the mission is to visually investigate the aftermath of the DART probe impact. (NASA )
3/6 When to watch: The live broadcast of the event will start on September 26 at 6 p.m., EDT. The spacecraft will impact its target asteroid at 7:14 p.m. EDT, while at 8:00 p.m. ET, the research organisation will host a post-impact press briefing. (AFP)
4/6 Where to watch: The historic collision can be watched live online as NASA will be broadcasting the same. NASA will broadcast the live coverage of DART’s impact with the asteroid Dimorphos on NASA TV and its several social media handles like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. (AFP)
5/6 About asteroids: According to NASA, More than 100 tons of dust and sand sized particles are bombarded towards Earth everyday. While, about once a year, an automobile-sized asteroid hits Earth's atmosphere, creates an impressive fireball, and burns up before reaching the surface. Every 2,000 years or so, a meteoroid the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage to the area. Only once every few million years, an object large enough to threaten Earth's civilization comes along. Impact craters on Earth, the moon and other planetary bodies are evidence of these occurrences. (AP)
6/6 Space rocks smaller than about 25 meters (about 82 feet) will most likely burn up as they enter the Earth's atmosphere and cause little or no damage. By comparison, asteroids that populate the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and pose no threat to Earth, can be as big as 940 kilometers (about 583 miles) across. (MINT_PRINT)
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When will we know the full impact of the NASA DART mission and the effect it caused on the asteroid Dimorphos. (AP)

Just a few hours ago, the historic NASA DART mission came to an exciting and successful conclusion as the designated spacecraft, moving at the speed of 22,500 kilometers per hour, smashed into the asteroid Dimorphos. The mission was being conducted to test the planetary defense capabilities of NASA. While the asteroid itself was not a threat to the Earth, the test mission is supposed to help the space agency in collecting data in real-world conditions to see by what margin can the orbit of an asteroid be shifted if a high-velocity spacecraft crashes into it. But this data may not be fully available in the next few days. So, when can we realistically expect to know whether the spacecraft was able to change the asteroid's orbit or not? Read on to find out.

Dimorphous is a 160-meters wide asteroid which orbits around a larger (780-meters wide) asteroid called Didymos. One of the reasons why this asteroid was selected was due to its smaller and observable orbit which makes it easy to assess and see the changes that can be caused by the spacecraft. It is expected that the spacecraft impact will push Dimorphos towards Didymos, both changing its orbit and increasing its orbital time. But it will be a while before we can truly observe this change.

“It's like if you damaged your wristwatch and it started running a little bit fast. You might not notice it in the first day or two, but after a few weeks, you will begin to notice that it's just not keeping the correct time anymore,” Tom Statler, the DART program scientist at NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office explained in a news conference, reported Space.com.

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When will we be able to see the impact of the NASA DART mission

The reason for the time taken is obvious. Only after the asteroid has moved considerably in its trajectory, will it be possible to determine whether its path has changed. And the observation is crucial. That is because NASA only has a very rough idea about the change that might cause. Rest will depend on the properties of Dimorphos. For example, if the asteroid is a solid block of rock, it will see a great impact but if it is made of loosely packed pebbles and dirt, then some of the impact might be absorbed by the asteroid. NASA has said that if the impact can increase the orbital time of Dimorphos by 73 seconds, it will be considered a successful mission. However, it is believed that the spacecraft might have taken close to 10 minutes off its orbital time.

“The telescopes will be watching the timing of the eclipses, when Dimorphos goes in front of Didymos, as we see it from Earth. Within a few days or weeks, we would see that those start happening off-schedule. I personally would be surprised if a month went by and we did not have a clear detection of that change. But we can't say exactly,” said Statler.

So, it appears that it might take us close to a month to truly understand the extent of the spacecraft's impact. If successful, it will no doubt become one of the most powerful tools to protect ourselves from dangerous space rocks.

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First Published Date: 27 Sep, 09:58 IST