Science

NASA’s DART mission will completely deform the asteroid Dimorphos

NASA's DART mission will completely deform the asteroid Dimorphos
Written by boustamohamed31

Illustration of the DART spacecraft approaching the asteroid.

The DART mission will be the first to test the asteroid’s deflection using kinetic impact technology.
Illustration: NASA

In order to protect the Earth, some sacrifices must be made. NASA’s DART spacecraft is currently on its way to a binary asteroid system known as Didymos and will essentially crash into one small asteroid to test a deviation method. But instead of leaving behind a crater from an impact, as originally plannedthe DART spacecraft could actually deform the mini-moonwhich makes it almost unrecognizable.

Using a new model, a group of researchers are simulates the whole cratering process and found that the asteroid’s deflection mission could completely change its purpose, changing its appearance much more seriously than previously thought.

“The impact of DART could globally deform Dimorphos and therefore significantly change its overall shape, instead of creating just a small crater,” said Martin Yutzi, co-author of studywhich was published in The Planetary Science Journal, Gizmodo reported in an email.

This illustration shows the possible shapes that an asteroid can take after an impact.

This illustration shows the possible shapes that an asteroid can take after an impact.
Illustration: Courtesy of Martin Yutzi

As seen in the illustration above, the mini-moon, called Dimorphos (formerly known as Didymoon), can take one of these six possible forms after a spacecraft strike. The whole process of crater formation can take several hours, so previous impact models did not predict the subsequent deformation of the asteroid. “Previous models could only simulate the first seconds of such events,” Jutzi said.

Abbreviated from the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, the DART mission launched in November 2021 to the asteroid system Didymos. Didimos is an 800-meter rock with its own 170-meter moon, known as Dimorphos, DART’s main target. The spacecraft will crash into the mini-moon at 15,000 miles per hour (24,140 kilometers per hour), trying to take offset your orbit. The strike is scheduled for late September or early October, when the pair will come 7 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth.

The purpose of the test is to experiment with kinetic impact technology as a means of deflecting asteroids that could be aimed at Earth. NASA and other space agencies, keep a close eye on asteroids that come too close for comfort to assess whether they pose a threat to our planet or not. But when it comes to protecting the Earth from incoming asteroid shocks, there is no clear plan for what to do.

“These weak asteroids could actually be deflected much more strongly and larger amounts of material could be ejected from the impact than previous estimates predicted,” Yutzi said. “These larger effects should be easier to monitor immediately after exposure to DART.” So the DART mission will still be able to perform the experiment, only perhaps with a different result than originally expected.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is also planning a follow-up mission to the pair of space rocks. ESA is scheduled to release its own Hera’s mission in 2024, which will meet with Didymos by 2026 to study the impact crater left behind by DART, and any other changes made to the asteroid. If Dimorphos has really taken on a different look, it can provide valuable data about the asteroid itself.

“Ideally, this will allow us to learn something about the inside of the asteroid, not just the surface,” Yutzi said. “This in turn will provide very valuable information about the volumetric properties of the asteroid and will improve our understanding of asteroids in general.”

More ▼: The spacecraft that will crash into an asteroid has just sent its first photos

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