DART hit the target : for the first time, the system for saving the Earth from dangerous asteroids was tested

(ORDO NEWS) — The DART probe successfully crashed into Dimorph, the smaller of the binary asteroid bodies.

According to forecasts, as a result of the collision, the asteroid will have to slow down by 1%. Before the collision, the probe took pictures of its surface.

All objects with a diameter of more than 150 meters, approaching the Earth by more than 0.05 astronomical units (astronomical unit – the average distance of the Earth from the Sun), or about 19.5 distances from our planet to the Moon, are considered potentially dangerous by astronomers.

As of June of this year, about 2270 such objects were known, but over 99% of them do not pose a danger to the Earth for at least another hundred years. Nevertheless, you need to prepare in advance for a potential collision.

Last year, NASA astronomers reported that it would take five to ten years to prepare for the deflection of a dangerous asteroid.

An incoming asteroid can be blown up, but, firstly, the charge power will be limited by the capabilities of the device, and secondly, this will create a cloud of potentially dangerous debris.

It is more logical to reject an approaching body. To test the kinetic ramming method, NASA organized the DART mission.

The composition of DART – “Double Asteroid Redirection Test” – is simple: a box measuring approximately 1.2 x 1.3 x 1.3 meters with several sensors and a camera (DRACO).

The total weight is about 570 kilograms. The probe also carried a small satellite , LICIACube , the “Lightweight Italian CubeSat for Asteroid Surveys”, from the Italian Space Agency.

The target of the mission was a double asteroid consisting of the 780-meter asteroid Didyma and the 160-meter asteroid Dimorpha.

It is one of the potentially dangerous objects, but the trajectory of its flight will lie far from our planet for a long time to come.

Now it is at a distance of 10.9 million kilometers. For comparison: the distance to the Moon is 364 thousand kilometers, the minimum distance to Mars is 55 million kilometers.

DART hit the target for the first time the system for saving the Earth from dangerous asteroids was tested 2
Asteroids Didymus (center) and Dimorph (right) 2.5 minutes before the collision, from a distance of about 920 kilometers

Little Dimorph revolves around the main body with a period of 11.9 hours. The DART hit him at about 22,530 kilometers per hour, ten times faster than the average bullet. The collision should slow the satellite’s orbital period by 1%, about 10 minutes.

According to Elena Adams , DART mission engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, it will take several months of observations to confirm the exact change in the orbital period. But the images are already there – thanks to the camera on DART.

DART hit the target for the first time the system for saving the Earth from dangerous asteroids was tested 3
The last complete image of Dimorph’s surface, taken two seconds before impact, from about 12 kilometers away. The picture shows a fragment of the surface 31 x 31 meters

The Italian satellite LICIACube separated from DART fifteen days before the collision. His pictures will be published in the coming days.

The DART team will continue to monitor the asteroid from ground-based telescopes. The results of observations and the mission will improve computer models that predict the future behavior of asteroids during such collisions.

And it will become clear how effective the kinetic ram method is in deflecting asteroids.

About four years later, the European Hera mission will fly up to the double asteroid, which will study Didymus and Dimorphus in detail, focusing on the crater formed by the collision.

“Now we know that we can steer the spacecraft to hit a small body in space with reasonable accuracy,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Administrator, commenting on the success. “A small change in its speed is all we need to make a significant change in trajectory.”

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