Dart successfully achieved its first objective: colliding with an asteroid 11 million kilometers away

US space agency made history todaySuccessfully concludes the first test of Defense Against Humanity asteroids by dynamic effect. An experiment worth more than $330 million that has been going on for years and in which hundreds of organizations and institutions have participated, including the European Space Agency (ESA).

During the early hours of this Tuesday, the spacecraft Dart -The acronym in English for ‘Double Asteroid Redirect Test’- has crashed like a kamikaze plane against an asteroid Dimorphos, a 160-meter rock that lies 11 million kilometers from our planet, Hitting that ‘small’ target at such a distance and going at a speed of about 22,000 kilometers per hour is an achievement in itself. But it is that, moreover, it has done so by navigating autonomously during the last section of the route and by recording and transmitting what was in front at all times. All thanks to the latest technologies involved in the NASA investigation.

Hitting the target was no easy task: “We are talking about an object 160 meters long and a body that would be 11 million kilometers away from Earth at the time of impact. It’s like hitting a golf hole… on the moon”, Adriano Campo, a physicist with a doctorate in astronomy involved in the DART mission through the University of Alicante, explained to 20BITS. In addition, there was another complication, which is the fact that the last four hours of the Dart’s navigation have been autonomous, that is, through an algorithm that has found the target and led the probe to hit the target.

This has been the effect of Dart against the asteroid Dimorphos.
20 minutes

It’s been the last seconds before impact

In the eastern United States at 7:14 p.m. local time -1:14 a.m. Spanish Peninsular Time-, in English dart ship-dart- Has crashed at a speed of 6.4 kilometers per second against the surface of the asteroid Dimorphos, located about 11 million kilometers from Earth,

The dart shatters against the surface, but the damage is worth it, as its effect has achieved its first objective: hitting Dimorphos. This maneuver has been chosen because the destruction of the meteorite could have ended in disaster if hundreds of rocks fell to Earth.Explained before the effect, the administrator of NASABill Nelson explained on Twitter.

Over the next few days we’ll see if DART changes the current orbit of Dimorphos around the larger asteroid Didymos.

What is the intention of completing the mission?

Although neither Dimorphos nor Didymos represent a threat to EarthThe purpose of this maneuver is to help us defend ourselves from potentially dangerous objects that could devastate cities or regions of our planet. That is to say: this binary asteroid system is a testing ground for a real future threat.

Over the years, many observatories in different parts of our planet have been scanning the night sky in search of one of these harmful visitors. About 20,000 asteroids have been discovered so far whose orbits can bring them closer to our planet. NASA considers dangerous anyone who is over 140 meters in diameter and can reach less than 10 million kilometers, which is about 5,000 in total. However, they assure that there is currently no risk for the next 100 years – although only 40% of these items are tracked – .

Currently, most asteroids Those that may represent a real threat are of ‘small’ dimensions. to get an idea, The diameter of the one who killed the dinosaur was about ten kilometersWhile most of those that have been listed are no more than a few hundred meters.

The DART spacecraft will collide with the asteroid Dimorphos in the fall of 2022.

Recall that on February 15, 2013, an unknown asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere and exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia., which exploded in the air and sent shock waves across six cities in the region. The explosion injured more than 1,600 people and caused an estimated $30 million in damage. The size of the object was about 18 meters. An impact of one of the larger sizes can have disastrous consequences.

Getting the dimorphos’ twist is going to be fundamental to being able to overcome all the collision models that already exist, Thus, in the event that there is a potential threat in the future, first of all, we would already know what the impact of this type of impact would be, so we could measure mass, speed, and the rest of the parameters as required – near Earth. Based on the size, distance and speed of the incoming asteroid. You can also craft a series of probes and all you have to do is upload them to a rocket and point them at the target. Therefore, knowing this potential danger at least two years in advance, it may be possible to avoid it”, elaborated astrophysicist Campo.

ESA recreation of the dart effect against Dimorphos.
ESA recreation of the dart effect against Dimorphos.

Is there any chance that with dart maneuvers we could radically change this currently harmless asteroid and become a threat to Earth?

“The answer is fundamentally no. There is no possibility of this happening, it is clearly calculated,” Adriano Campo underlined for 20BITS.

And now that?

Although its impact can be seen on NASA’s live broadcast, scientists will have to wait for days or weeks to gather the necessary information for this. Check if the unmanned spacecraft managed to slightly change the orbit of the asteroid,

From NASA they believe DART’s effect on Dimorphos may have cratered and launched small rock fragments into space. However, in the coming days it will also have to be verified by LICIACube, a small satellite developed by the Italian Space Agency, which observed the operation to take images of the impact and send them to scientists for evaluation.

The impact should have deflected the orbit of Didymos’ satellite, the asteroid Dimorphos. This deviation will be measured later. How? Thanks to ground-based telescopes: Measurements from Earth that it took for Dimorphos to make one complete revolution around Didymos before impact have to be seen now, how long it took him to do so after the collision. it takes time. same maneuver. The time difference would offer us an idea of ​​how the impulse Dart delivered to the asteroid has been.

DART will complete its mission in September 2022.

mission continues

within two years, European Space Agency HERA will launch the mission, which aims to circle Dimorphos, map its surface, measure its mass, and determine the effect of DART on its orbit. In addition, two CubeSats – a briefcase-sized small satellite – will land on the asteroid to collect data on the composition and origin of the rock. HERA is scheduled to launch in 2024 and will face off with the Didymos system in 2026,

Astrophysicist Adriano Campo believed that even if everything goes well, “It is quite possible that we will have to do another experiment”, “In my opinion, I believe what should be done later, if there are important parameters that are not able to be understood, then propose another mission to clarify them.”

Furthermore, he said, “It is a certain kind of object, composed mostly of rocks, but Not all near-Earth bodies are the same, some are more porous, composed of rocks that have a higher percentage of carbon and, therefore, are lighter. Perhaps the result of the reaction and the effect was different.

In connection with the HERA mission, the field team is studying the internal structure of both Didymos, the main asteroid, and Dimorphos, as well as the formation mechanisms of these binary systems. ,We begin with the hypothesis that these bodies can be classified under ‘debris piles’. -ruble-pile in English-, a type of asteroid formed from rocks of various sizes that are joined only by self-gravitation or small cohesive forces, that is, they are formed from the remnants of collisions between asteroids. To really understand the outcome of the collision it would be necessary to know the type of asteroid’s composition”, he explained.

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