Soon, the DART space probe will reach its final destination. We’re already looking forward, with five urgent questions and answers.
The countdown can begin, as in a few weeks, on September 26, the DART spacecraft will reach the asteroid Didymos. The spacecraft will hit the moon of this binary system in an attempt to change its orbit. It promises to be an exciting mission that we hope will give us more ideas on how to protect Earth from any near future. And to be fully informed about this task, we have listed the most important facts for you.
1) Who are DART and Didymos?
DART (short for Double Asteroid Redirect Test) is a spacecraft built by NASA that was launched last November. DART is a very simple spacecraft. So there is only one instrument on board, the DRACO instrument (Didymos reconnaissance and asteroid camera for operational navigation). This tool will take important images of the asteroid DART has been heading for months. In addition, this also includes the autonomous navigation system.
Didymos is the asteroid DART it’s heading for. Didymus (Greek for twins) is a binary system consisting of two parts. Didymos A has a diameter of 780 meters. Around Didymos A, a smaller celestial body about 160 meters long. This moon, called Dimorphos, completes one orbit every 11 hours 55 minutes.
1) What will happen on September 26th?
September 26th is the so-called “DART Impact Day”. The intent of the DART spacecraft is to intentionally smash itself into the young moon on this day. So the idea is that the DART spacecraft will hit the Dimorphos moon. And at a speed of more than 6 km / s (about nine times faster than a bullet). By the way, Dimorphos is not supposed to be completely detonated; The US space agency only expects to create a small crater. The researchers hope that the impact will result in only a small change in the moon’s orbit. By gently tapping the space rock, if everything goes according to plan, a small change in orbital velocity is forced.
Kinetic effect technology
The DART mission will use what’s called a kinetic effect technique. This involves gently tapping a space rock, causing a small change in orbital velocity. DART will demonstrate the technology and determine from Earth observatories the change in the Moon’s orbit. This will give scientists around the world the opportunity to learn more about the kinetic impact and whether this is a practical strategy for asteroid deflection.
3) What is the purpose of the task?
The goal is to slightly modify Dimorphos’ orbit. And since Dimorphos are part of a binary system, it is relatively easy to compute the assigned path after DART hits it. Scientists hope to learn more about whether this technique, in which the direction of a space rock is deflected by collision, is a practical strategy. In this way, space rocks on a collision course with Earth can be avoided in the future. In short, the mission will help us better understand how to protect our precious planet from potentially dangerous objects in the near future of Earth. Because while we might not want to think too much about it, it might just be that in the future a space rock unexpectedly ends up on a collision course with Earth. And then, of course, we need to know how to deal with such dangerous near-Earth objects that can harm our planet.
4) What is the probability that an asteroid will be on a collision course with Earth in the near future?
Although dangerous impacts on Earth are extremely rare, they are also not impossible. In addition, Earth is being bombarded from space more than you might expect. Every day, for example, 80-100 tons of material fall from space to Earth in the form of dust and small meteors (fragments of asteroids that break up in the Earth’s atmosphere). Billions of years ago, our planet was bombarded by asteroids large and small. And once or twice a century a “large” object hits the ground. For example, consider 17 large meters Chelyabinsk meteoritethat rocked the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 2013. As a result, astronomers are currently scanning the night sky for potentially dangerous relatives. This search is going well. Meanwhile, astronomers estimate to track and map about 90% of all near-Earth objects larger than one kilometer in size. As a result, we now know that there are no currently known asteroids that pose a serious threat to Earth for the next 100 years. But it is suspected that large numbers of smaller objects still exist that we have not yet observed. The big challenge now is to identify as many smaller asteroids (up to about 140 meters in size) as possible, which can also cause damage.
What damage would an asteroid the size of Demorphos cause if it hit Earth? At 160 metres, Demorphos is a space rock that scientists are really interested in. An asteroid 1 km or larger could herald a global mass extinction. This means that a moon like Dimorphos, if theoretically colliding with Earth, could indeed cause significant regional devastation.
5) What happens after the mission?
When DART hit Demorphos on September 26, researchers hope to be able to study the deadly effect and its direct consequences using telescopes from Earth and in space. After this, the effects of the bombing will also be determined by the Italian CubeSat called LICIACube. LICIACube is traveling with DART and will separate from the spacecraft about ten days before it crashes. LICIACube will fly out about three minutes after the DART collision and produce some pretty cool images. Then CubeSat HERA will also be launched in 2024, which will further investigate in the aftermath of the bombing. The satellite will approach the surface of the moon up to 200 meters. This allows Hera to produce high-resolution images – 2 cm per pixel. In particular, the researchers want to get sharp images of the crater that DART will leave on the moon.
Essentially, the DART mission is a kind of experiment in what NASA calls “planetary defense.” In the event that there is a potentially dangerous asteroid on its way to Earth, we may be able to prevent the collision thanks to the knowledge and skills we gain during the DART mission. So you don’t have to worry about Didymus, he poses no threat to Earth. The mission is only a demonstration mission to see if the technique in which the direction of a space rock is deflected by collision works.
It will also be interesting to achieve the desired goal. NASA hopes to give Didymos only a “little push.” But a recently published study shows that DART may hit the moon harder than intended. This can radically change the result of the collision. So we wait anxiously. A month of patience and then we’ll know more…
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