NASA’s DART mission succeeded in changing the orbit of the asteroid Dimorphos

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NASA’s DART mission succeeded in changing the orbit of the asteroid Dimorphos

On September 26, the space probe DART or Double Asteroid Redirection Test hit the small asteroid called Dimorphos. The aim was to test the feasibility of a planetary defense technique in case a dangerous asteroid approaches Earth. With this impact, the scientists aimed to shorten the orbit of Dimorphos around Didymos at least 73 seconds. But they hoped the effect would be around 10 minutes.

Last Monday, October 11, NASA announced the results of the first calculations concerning the orbit of the asteroid, and they are very promising. The impact has indeed reduces the orbit of Dimorphos by 32 minutes which usually lasts around 11 hours and 55 minutes.

Dimorphos captured by Hubble on October 8
Credits NASA/ESA/STScI/Hubble

According to Lori Glaze, who is head of NASA’s planetary science division, this is a great first in the history of humanity. This is the first time that humans have been able to change the orbit of a planetary body.

The DART mission

The DART probe, which weighed around 360 kg, was launched in November 2021. It was equipped with a single onboard instrument which was a camera called DRACO or Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation.

DART made contact with Dimorphos on September 26 at a speed of around 23,760 km/h. It transmitted one frame per second towards Earth until it crashed into the surface of the asteroid. For the scientists, successfully hitting the 160m wide space rock was already a success, but now, with the first results, the mission is a complete success.

Scientists are currently continuing to analyze the results. According to Nancy Chabot, coordinator of the DART mission at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, it is possible that the change in the orbit was reinforced by the amount of debris that the impact sent into space.

Latest pictures

Apart from announcing the change in the orbit of Dimorphos, NASA scientists also revealed the last images obtained after the impact. A new image taken by the cubesat LICIACube has for example been revealed, but also an image which has just been taken by the telescope Hubble.

In the image of Dimorphos taken by Hubble on October 8, a large cone of debris that the Sun has caused to slightly collapse to one side can be seen since the first images taken after the impact.

Hubble also photographed the debris trail behind Dimorphos which measures in the 10,000 km. But on the images captured recently, we can see that the tail split in two. Researchers don’t yet know why this happened.

Scientists will not stop at these initial results as telescopes on the ground and in space will continue to observe the effects of the impact on Dimorphos. In 2024, theESA will also launch the probe Hera to explore the asteroids Didymos and Dimorphos in more detail.


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