The DART mission has successfully shifted the orbit of its target

Zoom / A recent image from Hubble shows a 10,000 km tail of debris left by the DART effect.

NASA announced Tuesday that its first test of a potential planetary defense system was a notable success. Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) passed They crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid In late September, hoping to change its orbit around a larger companion. However, any changes in orbit will be difficult to capture and may require months of follow-up observations. But the magnitude of the orbital shift was large enough that ground-based observatories actually picked it up.

Meanwhile, plenty of instruments are also picking up debris that flew off the collision, giving scientists a lot of information about the collision and the asteroid.

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Dimorphos are less than 200 meters in diameter and cannot be dissolved from the ground. Instead, the binary asteroid looks like a single body from here, with most of the light being reflected off the much larger Didymus. What we can see, however, is that the Didymus system darkens intermittently. Most of the time, the two asteroids are arranged so that the Earth receives light reflected from both. But Demorphos’ orbit takes it intermittently behind Didymus from Earth’s perspective, which means we only receive light reflected from one of the two objects – and that causes dimming.

By measuring the periods of darkness, we can tell how long it takes Demorphos to rotate and therefore how far apart the two asteroids are.

The DART effect is designed to be head-on and slow-down Dimorphos. This will cause it to fall into a lower orbit that takes less time to complete. So, even though we’re slowing down the asteroid’s speed, we’d expect it to complete its orbit more quickly. How quickly? In modeling before the impact, NASA concluded that, at the very least, it would be more than a minute shorter, but likely more substantial. “The team was looking at a wide range of parameters for possible physical properties of Dimorphos and from those models, we estimated that we would make a change of anywhere from a few minutes to several tens of minutes,” NASA’s Laurie Glaese said.

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Over time, the difference between predictions of when the dimming will appear should grow, given the previous orbit of Demphos and when the dimming occurred. A variety of telescopes have captured observations with a time window wide enough to capture both the expected orbital dimming and the full range of possible timings based on NASA modeling. The results clearly show that the orbit has been shortened.

Data from ground-based telescopes show that Demorphos does not break when we would expect it if it was in its previous orbit.
Zoom / Data from ground-based telescopes show that Demorphos does not break when we would expect it if it was in its previous orbit.

with you? Prior to DART, Demorphos’ orbit took 11 hours and 55 minutes; After the effect, it takes 11 hours and 23 minutes. For those who hate math, this is 32 minutes shorter (about 4 percent). NASA estimates that the orbit is now “tens of meters” closer than Didymos. This orbital shift is confirmed by radar imaging, which can resolve asteroids (albeit barely, as Dimorphos occupy a single pixel in these images).

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