For the dinosaurs!

The dinosaurs didn’t have a space program, but we do.

I just watched live the first kinetic-impact asteroid-redirection test as NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft collided with the asteroid-moon Dimorphos of the asteroid Didymos. Below is the last image DART transmitted, truncated by the impact itself!

The goal is to measurably change the speed of Dimorphos as it orbits Didymos to test asteroid planetary defense. Ground-based telescopes cannot resolve the system, which is only a few hundred meters across. (To DART Dimorphos looked like a spheroidal rubble pile). However, the system undergoes mutual eclipses as seen from Earth and its brightness dips periodically when one asteroid blocks or shadows the other. The head-on collision should have slowed Dimorphos, lowering its orbit and reducing its orbital period by several minutes, which should be noticeable over the next few weeks. Confounding variables include momentum exchanged with ejecta and the consequent gravity change due to theirĀ reshaping.

(In 2005, NASA’s Deep Impact space probeĀ released an impactor into comet Tempel 1 not to redirect it but to excavate the interior for remote analysis, like taking a core sample from a tree.)

Final image transmission from DART cut-off by its impact with the asteroid Dimorphos

Final image transmission from DART cut-off by its impact with the asteroid Dimorphos

About John F. Lindner

John F. Lindner was born in Sleepy Hollow, New York, and educated at the University of Vermont and Caltech. He is an emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at The College of Wooster and a visiting professor at North Carolina State University. He has enjoyed multiple yearlong sabbaticals at Georgia Tech, University of Portland, University of Hawai'i, and NCSU. His research interests include nonlinear dynamics, celestial mechanics, and neural networks.
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