CM – The launch of the dual asteroid diversion test could be an important step in planetary defense


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November 22, 2021

from Northern Arizona University

NASA’s recent launch into space will have an impact. In fact, that’s his whole mission.

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DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test), which is expected to start at 10:20 p.m. PST on Nov. 23 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California is NASA’s first planetary defense mission. This mission will demonstrate the deflection of asteroids by kinetic impact. The goal is to collide with the target to see the orbit change. It’s a test run to see if such a plan is feasible should we one day find an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

Cristina Thomas, Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Science at Northern Arizona University and Director of DART Observations Working Group, welcomes the impact of the impact. She and her international team have been working for years to obtain a precise orbit from Dimorphos, the satellite asteroid, around Didymos, the primary asteroid in a near-Earth asteroid system, before impact.

Proximity to earth is relative, of course; the planet is not in danger from Didymos. However, an asteroid heading for Earth is possible, and scientists around the world are working to identify and contain these potential threats. If this mission goes according to plan, this technique known as kinetic impact deflection could be an important part of a planetary defense system.

« DART is an important next step in defending the planet, » said Thomas. « It’s a simple test on the surface, but we won’t fully understand what will happen until we do it. »

Using data from 2003, when the satellite was discovered, through early 2021, the Working group to precisely restrict the properties of the orbit and the position of Dimorphos in orbit at the time of impact in autumn 2022. They take repeated images on the same object showing dips in brightness as the satellite passes in front of or behind the primary object. The timing of these drops in brightness, known as mutual events, enables the scientists to determine the orbital time of the satellite.

“This essentially imagines the Dimorphos satellite as a clock that advances to its position at regular intervals or come back behind Didymos, ”said Thomas. « Our working group will start again with observations in the months before the DART impact. We want to have as complete a picture of the current orbit as possible before we change it as a result of the impact. »

Thomas will be in California at launch, and they will and her team will continue to conduct observations after the collision to determine the change in orbital time caused by the impact of the spacecraft.

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test is the world’s first comprehensive planetary defense test that uses a method of Asteroid deflection technology demonstrated. DART is a focused mission that proves that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a target asteroid and intentionally collide with it at around 6 kilometers per second (so-called kinetic impact). Its destination is the asteroid moonling Dimorphos (Greek for « two forms »), which orbits a larger asteroid named Didymos (Greek for « twin »). As part of NASA’s broader planetary defense strategy, DART will simultaneously test new technology and provide critical data to improve modeling and prediction skills, and to help scientists better prepare for an asteroid that should pose a threat to Earth one to be discovered.

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