The DART mission (Double Asteroid Redirection Test), is a kamikaze spacecraft the size of a small car and equipped with a camera. It left Earth 10 months ago and deliberately crashed into the 160-meter-diameter asteroid-moon named Dimorphos in order to modify its orbit around the larger asteroid Didymos, giving it a tighter orbit. The goal of this mission is to know whether we are capable of changing the trajectory of an asteroid and to test our ability to protect Earth against collisions threatening to impact it. In the case of this binary asteroid, it will be easier to observe the deviation caused.
Even though at present no known asteroid threatens our planet, astronomers estimate that the trajectories of 60% of these celestial bodies have not been plotted, meaning there are thousands of asteroids out there with unknown trajectories.
Great firsts for space missions
Three minutes after the impact, a satellite, ejected by the probe a few days earlier, will pass a few kilometers from the asteroid to capture the first images that will be sent back to Earth in a few weeks. This impact is also being immortalized by the sharp eyes of land-based telescopes and both the Hubble and James-Webb space telescopes are locked in on the event. But it is really only after the launch of the European HERA mission in 2024 and its arrival in the zone in 2026 that the full consequences of the DART impact will be truly assessed.
DART also made it possible to see the surface of a binary asteroid for the first time. For the first time HERA will provide detailed information on the internal structure of the asteroid in addition to data on the size of the crater left by the DART impactor. Information that will need to be analyzed on Earth to better understand its physical properties.
The Space Systems team for Planetology and its Applications involved in analyzing the results
The ISAE-SUPAERO research group will look at the physical properties of the asteroid to try to better understand them in order to interpret the impact of the missile-probe.
The images will enable the site of the impact to be studied and the interactions between the probe and the surface to be characterized. Naomi Murdoch is a member of the scientific team and head of the international group that will analyze the data from the HERA mission.
This European mission will embark two exploration CubeSats, Juventas and Milani, to conduct a detailed characterization of Dimorphos. They will be deployed at the end of the primary mission, landing on the asteroid’s surface. The team will be able to analyze the physical properties of this asteroid in order to study the state of its surface and its internal structure.
“All this information will help us understand the evolution of the solar system and the formation of the planets, because asteroids are the left-over bricks from this process” Naomi Murdoch concluded.
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