Washington: During the first trial of a planetary defence system in September, NASA’s DART spacecraft slammed with the asteroid Dimorphous at a location between two rocks, sending debris hurtling into space and altering the rocky, oblong-shaped object’s path a little more than anticipated.
That was one of the discoveries made by researchers on Wednesday (Mar. 1) in the most thorough assessment of the US space agency’s proof-of-concept mission on using a spacecraft to shift a celestial object’s trajectory, using pure kinetic force to exhort it off method just sufficiently to keep Earth safe.
The results of the DART test were incredibly positive. Terik Daly, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland and the lead author of one of the DART studies that were recently published in the journal Nature, said, “We now know that we have an attainable technique for potentially preventing an asteroid effect if one day we had to.
On September 26, at a speed of around 22,530 km/h, the (DART) Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft slammed into Dimorphous, an asteroid with a diameter of about 150 m that is roughly 11 million kilometres from Earth. Dimorphous is a moon of Didymos, a near-Earth asteroid with a diameter of roughly 780 meters with a form akin to a top spinning in orbit. Neither object puts Earth in danger.
By crashing into Dimorphous head-on, we attempted to alter the period it took for Dimorphous to orbit Didymos, according to Cristina Thomas, a planetary scientist at Northern Arizona University and the principal author of another study that was published in Nature.
Dimorphos’s orbital period is shortened by 33 minutes as a result of the collision’s momentum and the expelled material’s momentum. Also, this causes the object to orbit a little bit nearer Didymos,” Thomas remarked.
The orbital timelapse was 11 hours and 55 minutes before the crash. There are 11 hours and 22 minutes left. The previous estimate from NASA, released in October, was for a 32-minute change in orbit. A shift of at least one minute and thirteen seconds had been established as the standard for success.
The scientists described the collision’s progression in detail.
“First, a huge boulder close to the crash site was struck by one of the spacecraft’s solar panels. The second solar conference then brushed against yet another sizable pebble. The spacecraft bus, which is the crate between the solar panels, finally collided with these two stones, “explained Daly.
These two boulders appear to have been destroyed. For some time following impact, ejecta (debris shot into space) was launched from the surface, according to Daly, who added that satellite and telescope photos revealed a significant volume of such material.
Also, the investigation clarified information about the impact’s exact location and angle.
According to Thomas, the DART mission may be perceived as a simple experiment that is analogous to a game of space pool in which one solid spacecraft collides with one solid asteroid. “But asteroids are much more intricate than simple rocks. In actuality, the majority of asteroids resemble mounds of debris.”
The seven-year DART mission’s development cost US$330 million.
Daly stated, “We don’t currently know of any asteroids that pose a hazard to Earth, but we want to be ready for such a case. “It’s like testing the airbags in a car. Instead of waiting until you’re really in a car accident to see if they work, you test them out in a crash.