The universe is full of mysteries, and one of the biggest is whether or not an asteroid could hit Earth in a way that would be very terrible. It’s hard to imagine the severity of the damage and lives that could be lost in such a tragedy. But what if there were some way to stop a catastrophe of this scale? So this is where DART comes in. The DART mission is a fascinating and challenging task that could alter the path of human events by revealing new ways to safeguard Earth from asteroids.

But firstly we should know that,

What is this Dart?

DART, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, is a planetary defense mission led by NASA and the Laboratory of Applied Physics of Johns Hopkins University. The mission’s primary objective is to test the effectiveness of a technique called a kinetic impactor. Hence, it involves redirecting the path of an asteroid by colliding with a spacecraft into it at high speed.

The spacecraft, also called the DART impactor, was launched on November 23, 2021, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg, SLC-4E. The DART impactor weighs 610 kg. It carries a CubeSat called LICIACube, which was deployed six months and four days into the mission. The target of the DART mission is the Didymos system. It is a binary asteroid system consisting of two objects – the primary asteroid Didymos and its smaller moonlet called Dimorphos. The DART impactor is expected to collide with Dimorphos on September 26, 2022, at a distance of 56.7 km from the Didymos system.

Here arises the question,

What is the purpose of DART?

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission aims to test if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its pathway to respond to a potential asteroid impact threat. DART’s target is the binary asteroid system Didymos, composed of two asteroids – Didymos and Dimorphos. The DART spacecraft impacted Dimorphos. It is a smaller moonlet asteroid orbiting Didymos, nearly head-on, shortening the time it takes Dimorphos to orbit Didymos by 33 minutes. The scientists designed the impact carefully to bring Dimorphos’s orbit slightly closer to Didymos. But the system is not on a path to collide with Earth and poses no actual threat. The DART demonstration tests technology and capability to respond to a future asteroid impact threat, should one ever be discovered.

Furthermore, you need to find out,

What are the main objectives of DART’s mission?

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission has several key objectives, which include testing our ability to achieve a kinetic impact on an asteroid and observing its response. The primary objective of the mission is to demonstrate a kinetic impact with the smaller moonlet asteroid Dimorphos. It orbits the larger asteroid Didymos in a binary system. Another key objective is to change the binary orbital period of Dimorphos by using DART’s kinetic impact. So, an investigation team will measure it using telescopes on Earth. It observes how much the impact has changed the asteroid’s motion in space.

Additionally, the DART mission aims to engage the international planetary science community and foster worldwide cooperation to address the global issue of planetary defense. The use of ground-based telescope observations before and after the impact will allow for precise measurements of Dimorphos’ period change. Moreover, the mission seeks to measure the effects of the impact and resulting ejecta on Dimorphos. As it provides valuable insights into the behavior of asteroids and their response to impacts. By achieving these objectives, the DART mission will help advance our understanding of planetary defense and our ability to mitigate potential asteroid impact threats.

Now, come to the discussion that,

Was the NASA DART mission successful or not?

NASA has recently confirmed that the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission has successfully changed the orbit of an asteroid. It marked the first time humans have intentionally altered the motion of a celestial object. Hence, by colliding with the smaller moonlet asteroid, Dimorphos, DART impacted its target asteroid, Didymos, in successfully demonstrating asteroid deflection technology. The impact reduced the time it takes for Dimorphos to orbit Didymos by 32 minutes, down from the previous 11 hours and 55 minutes. This margin of error is around plus or minus 2 minutes. NASA had set a minimum goal of a 73-second orbit period change. The DART mission surpassed it by over 25 times. Astronomers on Earth have been using telescopes to measure the change in orbit since the impact occurred on September 26, 2022.

Moreover, let’s find out,

What are experts’ views on this mission?

The DART coordination lead from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel. Maryland “Nancy Chabot,” says: “DART has given us some fascinating data about both asteroid properties and the effectiveness of a kinetic impactor as a planetary defense technology,” Moreover, she explains: “The DART team is continuing to work on this rich dataset to fully understand this first planetary defense test of asteroid deflection.”

Bill Nelson, NASA’s Administrator, says: “All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet. After all, it’s the only one we have”. Moreover, he explains: “This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us. NASA has proven we are serious as a defender of the planet. This is a watershed moment for planetary defense and all of humanity.  Demonstrating commitment from NASA’s exceptional team and partners from around the world.”

The Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington is Lori Glaze. She says: “This result is one important step toward understanding the full effect of DART’s impact with its target asteroid”.  While, she added: “As new data come in each day, astronomers will be able to better assess. They will assess whether, and how, a mission like DART could be used in the future. It will help protect Earth from a collision with an asteroid if we ever discover one headed our way.”

So, here comes the point,

What are researchers looking forward to for this mission?

The investigation team is currently focused on gathering more data with ground-based observatories and radar facilities to improve the precision of the period measurement of Dimorphos. While this is ongoing, attention has shifted towards measuring the efficiency of momentum transfer from DART’s impact with the asteroid. This involves analyzing the ejecta. As it is the debris launched into space by the impact, to better understand how it affected DART’s push against Dimorphos. To do this, the team needs more information on the physical properties of the asteroid. It includes the characteristics of its surface and its strength.

Investigaters are investigating these issues currently. As the astronomers continuing to study imagery of Dimorphos from DART’s terminal approach and the Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube). In approximately four years, scientists has planned the European Space Agency’s Hera project  to conduct detailed surveys of both Dimorphos and Didymos. They focus on the crater left by DART’s collision and precise measurement of Dimorphos’ mass. This future mission will provide valuable insights into the effects of DART’s impact on the asteroid. And then it is aid in the development of future planetary defense strategies.


Published by: Sky Headlines