DART Made a Surprisingly Big Impact on Dimorphos

Artist's illustration of DART

NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission was hailed a success when it collided with its target asteroid Dimorphos last year. The purpose of the endeavour was to see if it could redirect an asteroid and, since the impact, astronomers have been measuring and calculating the impact on the target. It is incredible that the 580kg spacecraft travelling at 6 km/s was able to impart enormous kinetic energy to the 5 billion kg asteroid.

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What Happened to All Those Boulders Blasted into Space by DART?

Hubble Image of the DART Impact

It was a $325 million dollar project that was intentionally smashed to smithereens in the interest of one day, saving humanity. The DART mission (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) launched in November 2021 on route to asteroid Dimorphos. Its mission was simple, to smash into Dimorphos to see if it may be possible to redirect it from its path. On impact, it created a trail of debris from micron to meter sized objects. A new paper analyses the debris field to predict where they might end up. 

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DART Showed We Can Move an Asteroid. Can We Do It More Efficiently?

This illustration depicts NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft prior to impact at the Didymos binary asteroid system. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben
This illustration depicts NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft prior to impact at the Didymos binary asteroid system. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

Like many of you, I loved Deep Impact and Armageddon. Great films, loads of action and of course, an asteroid on collision course with Earth. What more is there to love!  Both movies touched upon the options for humanity to try and avoid such a collision but the reality is a little less Hollywood. One of the most common options is to try some sort of single impact style event as was demonstrated by the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission but a new paper offer an intriguing and perhaps more efficient alternative.

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After DART Smashed Into Dimorphos, What Happened to the Larger Asteroid Didymos?

NASA/Johns Hopkins APL.

NASA’s DART mission (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) slammed into asteroid Dimorphos in September 2022, changing its orbital period. Ground and space-based telescopes turned to watch the event unfold, not only to study what happened to the asteroid, but also to help inform planetary defense efforts that might one day be needed to mitigate potential collisions with our planet.

Astronomers have continued to observe and study Dimorphos, well past the impact event. However, Dimorphos is the smaller asteroid in this binary system, and is just a small moon orbiting the larger asteroid Didymos.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the only telescope capable of visually distinguishing between the two closely orbiting asteroids. Now, astronomers have made follow-on observations on the system with JWST to see what happened to Didymos after the dust cleared.

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DART Had a Surprising Impact on its Target

This Hubble image shows debris from Dimorphos about one day after NASA's DART spacecraft slammed into it. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Li (PSI)

After NASA’s DART mission slammed into asteroid Dimorphous in September 2022, scientists determined the impact caused tons of rock to be ejected from the small asteroid’s surface. But more importantly, DART’s impact altered Dimorphos’ orbital period, decreasing it by about 33 minutes.

However, a group of researchers measured the orbital period about a month later and discovered that it had increased to 34 minutes — 1 minute longer than the first measurements. Even though it was a single impact from DART, some force continued to slow the asteroid’s orbit, and astronomers don’t yet know what that mechanism might be.

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DART Impact Ejected 37 Giant Boulders from Asteroid Dimorphos’ Surface

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the asteroid Dimorphos was taken on 19 December 2022, nearly four months after the asteroid was impacted by NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission. Hubble’s sensitivity reveals a few dozen boulders knocked off the asteroid by the force of the collision. These are among the faintest objects Hubble has ever photographed inside the Solar System. Credit: NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA).

When the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft intentionally slammed into asteroid moonlet Dimorphos on September 26, 2022, telescopes around the world and those in space watched as it happened, and continued to monitor the aftermath.

Of course, the Hubble Space Telescope was focused on the event. In looking at Hubble’s images and data from post-impact, astronomers discovered 37 boulders that were ejected due to the impact. These boulders range in size from 1 meter (3 feet) to 6.7 meters (22 feet).

However, these boulders were not debris created by the spacecraft’s impact. Instead, they were boulders that were already on the surface of Dimorphos, and the impact event “shook” the boulders loose. A team of astronomers, led by David Jewitt and Yoonyoung Kim say in their paper detailing the findings that these boulders are some of the faintest objects ever imaged in the Solar System, only visible because of Hubble’s keen sensitivity. The images here showing the boulders surrounding Dimorphos were taken on December 19, 2022.

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Another Look at the Aftermath of DART's Impact Into Dimorphos

This artist’s illustration shows the ejection of a cloud of debris after NASA’s DART spacecraft collided with the asteroid Dimorphos. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

When the DART spacecraft slammed into asteroid Dimorphos on September 26, 2022, telescopes worldwide (and in space) were watching as it happened. But others continued watching for numerous days afterward to observe the cloud of debris. DART’s (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) intentional impact was not only a test of planetary defense against an asteroid hitting our planet, but it also allowed astronomers the chance to study Dimorphos, a tiny moon or companion to asteroid Didymos.

New images released by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) show how the surface of the asteroid changed immediately after the impact when pristine materials from the interior of the asteroid were exposed. Other data tracked the debris’ evolution over a month, and provided details on how the debris changed over time. Additionally, astronomers searched for evidence of DART’s fuel but couldn’t find any.

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Success! DART Impact Shortened Asteroid’s Orbit Time by 32 Minutes

Debris from asteroid targeted by DART
A Hubble Space Telescope image from Oct. 8 shows the debris blasted from the surface of an asteroid called Dimorphos 12 days after it was struck by NASA's DART spacecraft. (Credit: NASA / ESA / STScI / Hubble)

NASA says its DART spacecraft caused a larger-than-expected change in the path of its target asteroid when they collided two weeks ago — marking a significant milestone in the effort to protect our planet from killer space rocks.

Ten months after it was launched, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test’s refrigerator-sized robotic probe crashed into a 560-foot-wide asteroid called Dimorphos on Sept. 26, as it circled a bigger asteroid known as Didymos. The paired asteroids were 7 million miles from Earth at the time, and posed no threat to Earth before or after the smashup.

Before the crash, DART’s science team said they expected the collision to reduce the time it took for Dimorphos to go around Didymos by about 10 minutes. NASA would have regarded any change in excess of 73 seconds as a success.

After the crash, detailed observations from ground-based observatories showed that the orbit was actually 32 minutes shorter — going from 11 hours and 55 minutes to 11 hours and 23 minutes. That’s three times as much of a change as scientists were expecting. Scientists also said Dimorphos appears to be slightly closer to Didymos.

“This is a watershed moment for planetary defense, and a watershed moment for humanity,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said today. “All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet. After all, it’s the only one we have.”

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LICIACube Sends Home Images of the DART Impact and the Damage to Dimorphos

Image captured by the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube a few minutes after the intentional collision of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission with its target asteroid, Dimorphos, captured on Sept. 26, 2022. Credits: ASI/NASA
Image captured by the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube a few minutes after the intentional collision of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission with its target asteroid, Dimorphos, captured on Sept. 26, 2022. Credits: ASI/NASA

The Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube) has returned a series of close-up images of the asteroid Dimorphos, after last week’s successful impact of the Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) probe. LICIACube was built and operated by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and was designed to capture post-impact imagery for the DART team, to help assess the effects of the impact.

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After Getting Slammed by DART, Asteroid Dimorphos has Grown a Tail

Astronomers using the NSF’s NOIRLab’s SOAR telescope in Chile captured the vast plume of dust and debris blasted from the surface of the asteroid Dimorphos by NASA’s DART spacecraft when it impacted on 26 September 2022. In this image, the more than 10,000 kilometer long dust trail — the ejecta that has been pushed away by the Sun’s radiation pressure, not unlike the tail of a comet — can be seen stretching from the center to the right-hand edge of the field of view.

More images and details keep coming in about the asteroid intentionally smashed by NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft last week, and this latest image is stunning.

A telescope in Chile called SOAR took an image of the asteroid Dimorphos two days after the impact by DART and found the asteroid is trailing a stream of debris more than 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) long. However, other reports indicate that the debris trail could now be as long as 50,000 km (31,000 miles), and could still be growing.

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