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Historic NASA success. Strong asteroid impact

Historic NASA success.  Strong asteroid impact

At 1:30 a.m., Monday through Tuesday, Poland time, there was thunderous applause in the Control Center of the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University. It was built by scientists working there and is worth more than $300 million. The life of the DART satellite ended after it collided with an asteroid at a distance of 11 million kilometers with a diameter of 160 meters.

Thus, it became the first suicide mission in history that demonstrated the existence of a planetary defense system. DART was supposed to show that we could change the flight path of an asteroid hurtling toward Earth enough to overtake our planet.

– I believe that this success will teach us how to protect our planet from the threats of outer space. Planetary defense is a global issue, said NASA CEO Bill Nelson, but now I’m sure it’s possible.

Everything went according to plan. Scientists have estimated that they have been exceptionally relaxed during the past hour. – We practiced many different variants, but the itinerary was exactly as it was meant to be. In the last two minutes, when we were no longer able to give the satellite any commands, we were thrilled, APL mission manager Ed Reynolds said.

The rest of the text is below the video.

Now begins another, perhaps more important, part of the whole mission: Scientists want to understand exactly the effect of a half-colored satellite colliding with an asteroid. Ideally, the time it takes Demorphos to get around his older brother Didymus should be shortened (together they form a binary system). Telescopes will try to track this change from Earth – it will allow us to assess how effective the effect will be.

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Part of the work is done, but now the next stage begins. We’ll spend the coming months and even years analyzing the data from this effect, said Caroline Ernst, who worked on the camera that DART was equipped with.

Dimorphos are so small (about 160 metres) that 15 minutes before impact they have not filled the entire field of view of the DART camera. – NASA / You Tube

But scientists are also interested in the effect of the impact on Dimorphos itself. The problem with asteroids is that it is very difficult for us to tell from Earth how they are made and from what. Some are compact rocks, and some are collections of unconnected debris. A collision in either case will have different consequences. In short: it will be more effective with the former.

We found out that asteroids could be bulk assemblies of debris thanks to the OSIRIS-REx mission, which was aimed at providing samples from another small asteroid – Bennu. Bennu’s surface was so smooth that if the satellite had not fired its reverse engines in time, it would have collapsed beneath the surface.

During the press conference that followed the accident, scientists expressed the opinion that Dimorphos is similar to Bennu in this respect. This means that the DART strike threw a large amount of material above the surface. The crater after impact is likely to be 10-20 metres.

So, now we are waiting for the images that will soon be sent to Earth by LICIACube – a small satellite previously separated from DART, the task of which is to photograph the site of the collision. The Italian build will fly 55 km after impact in less than three minutes. Scientists are interested in the above cloud of dust and debris.

Diagram showing the DART task plan.Diagram showing the DART task plan. – NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

However, you will have to wait up to a few days or dozens of days to get the images. At the same time, observations of the Dimorphos-Didymos system will be carried out by telescopes located on Earth (and in space). Scientists estimate that it will take several months to fully analyze the data.

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But scientists do not want to stop there. The European Space Agency plans to send a separate mission to conduct a thorough investigation of the impact site. The satellite will be called HERA, and if all goes well, it will be launched in late 2024 and will arrive in December 2026.

“Only HERA will allow us to have all the parameters we will need if we are to plan a true planetary defense mission in the future,” said Ian Carnell, ESA’s project leader.

Earthlings, you can rest in peace,” APL mission manager Elena Adams joked.

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