Asteroid Dimorphos, which orbits the larger asteroid Didymos, was successfully redirected in September 2022. This was done by NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. This feat was truly amazing. Dimorphos’ orbit was altered and became 33 minutes quicker. It was a result of the collision with the DART spacecraft, which was roughly the size of a golf cart. The collision served as an important test of planetary defense. This is because it showed that, if a dangerous asteroid was ever seen traveling toward Earth, a mission to crash into it would probably be able to deflect it away from the planet.
To better understand how the DART spacecraft affected Dimorphos, researchers have been examining the collision and its aftermath. Five papers in the journal Nature contain the findings of their research. One team of researchers matched information about the spacecraft’s route with images of the asteroid’s surface right before impact. Scientists discovered that one of the spacecraft’s solar panels was the first component to make contact with Dimorphos. The spacecraft’s solar panels slammed into a 6.5-meter-wide boulder. A few microseconds later, the spacecraft’s main body slammed into the rocky terrain near the boulder and disintegrated.
From the 4.3-billion-kilogram mass of Dimorphos, the impact displaced at least one million kilograms of rock. Tens of thousands of kilometers of debris formed a tail behind the asteroid. Many telescopes observed the tail change and evolve during the ensuing weeks as a result of the Sun’s beams. Even a second tail was seen by the Hubble Space Telescope, but it vanished 18 days after the collision.
Dimorphos is 151 meters wide and poses no threat to Earth. With the DART mission, NASA aimed to adjust Dimorphos’s orbit. The adjustment would be enough for scientists to notice the changes. These changes would be noticed by tracking the pair’s brightness with ground-based telescopes over time. Pictures captured by DART on September 26, 2022, as it neared Dimorphos showed the asteroid to resemble an egg covered with pebbles. It seems to be a loose pile of debris held together by gravity. Also, DART’s impact probably caused its surface to break dramatically.
The DART mission’s accomplishment shows that humans have the technology to steer potentially harmful asteroids away from Earth. This represents a substantial advancement in planetary defense. It also offers useful data for planned asteroid defense missions. Such missions include the Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission. This mission will involve cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency.
The DART mission has been a resounding success overall. Also, the information gathered from the collision with Dimorphos will be crucial for further planetary defense study and development. Although the mission was a test, it has shown the effectiveness of our space technologies. In addition, it has proven our capacity to shield our world from prospective asteroid collisions.