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NASA’s DART Mission

  • Published
    14th Sep, 2022
Context

Later this month, NASA’s DART will intentionally crash into Dimorphos, the asteroid moonlet of Didymos.

  • While the asteroid poses no threat to Earth, this is the world’s first test of the kinetic impact technique, using a spacecraft to deflect an asteroid for planetary defense.

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)

  • DART is the first-ever mission dedicated to investigating and demonstrating one method of asteroid deflection by changing an asteroid’s motion in space through kinetic impact.
  • This method will have DART deliberately collide with a target asteroid which poses no threat to Earth, in order to change its speed and path.
  • DART’s target is the binary, near-Earth asteroid system Didymos, composed of the roughly 780-meter (2,560-foot) -diameter “Didymos” and the smaller, approximately 160-meter (530-foot)-size “Dimorphos,” which orbits Didymos.
  • DART will impact Dimorphos to change its orbit within the binary system.
  • DART is also carrying a cubesat that will film the larger spacecraft's impact and beam the footage back to researchers on Earth.
  • At the time of DART's impact, Didymos will be visible enough to be a good candidate for study and distant enough to be no danger, at approximately 6.8 million miles (11 kilometers) away from Earth.

Key Objectives

  • DART is a test of our ability to achieve a kinetic impact on an asteroid and observe the asteroid’s response.
  • After DART’s kinetic impact with its target asteroid Dimorphos, an investigation team will measure how much the impact changed the asteroid’s motion in space using telescopes on Earth.
  • This mission engages the international planetary science community and embraces worldwide cooperation to address the global issue of planetary defense.
  • DART’s Mission Objectives:
    • Demonstrate a kinetic impact with Dimorphos.
    • Change the binary orbital period of Dimorphos.
    • Use ground-based telescope observations to measure Dimorphos’ period change before and after impact.
    • Measure the effects of the impact and resulting ejecta on Dimorphos.

What is an Asteroid?

  • Asteroids are small, airless rocky worlds revolving around the sun that are too small to be called planets.
  • They are also known as planetoids or minor planets.
  • In total, the mass of all the asteroids is less than that of Earth’s moon. But despite their size, asteroids can be dangerous.
  • Many have hit Earth in the past, and more will crash into our planet in the future.

Where asteroids are located?

  • Most asteroids lie in a vast ring between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
  • Not everything in the main belt is an asteroid, for instance, comets have recently been discovered there, and Ceres, once thought of only as an asteroid, is now also considered a dwarf planet.
  • Many asteroids lie outside the main belt. For instance, a number of asteroids called Trojans lie along Jupiter’s orbital path.
  • Three groups — Atens, Amors, and Apollos — known as near-Earth asteroids orbit in the inner solar system and sometimes cross the path of Mars and Earth.
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