NASA’s DART Mission Alters Dimorph Asteroid’s Orbit, Leading to Unforeseen Changes

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NASA’s attempt to alter the orbit of an asteroid has resulted in some unexpected consequences. Last year, the American space agency struck the Dimorph asteroid with the DART spacecraft. Dimorph orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos, at a distance of approximately 11 million kilometers from Earth’s orbit. While the mission itself was deemed a success, it had an unintended effect – Dimorph’s orbit started to decay.

The issue wasn’t that the asteroid reacted to the impact – NASA had anticipated this. American experts aimed to change Dimorph’s speed and trajectory. Before the DART impact, Dimorph had an orbital period of 11 hours and 55 minutes. However, after the spacecraft struck it at a speed of 22,500 kilometers per hour, the orbital period was reduced by 32 minutes. But that wasn’t the end of it, as discovered by a California schoolteacher.

Jonathan Swift, who teaches at the Thatcher School, suggested to his students that they could use the campus observatory to monitor the effects of the DART mission. Together with his students, he found that Dimorph’s orbit continued to decay, reducing its orbital period by an additional two minutes compared to immediately after the collision with NASA’s probe.

The teacher sent the observation results of his students to the American Astronomical Society. While he initially suspected an error in the observations or calculations, the data was confirmed. Now, scientists are attempting to understand why Dimorph behaved so unexpectedly. One theory is that it is now undergoing chaotic tumbling, whereas previously, its orbit remained stable in a tidal lock.

Additional information about the pair of asteroids is expected in October from the European Hera mission. The spacecraft will conduct a detailed survey of the crater formed on Dimorph as a result of the DART impact and more precisely determine the mass and composition of both asteroids. These data will help researchers understand how and why both bodies are behaving the way they are.

Author Profile

Vasyl Kolomiiets
Vasyl Kolomiiets
I'm Vasyl Kolomiiets, a seasoned tech journalist regularly contributing to global publications. Having a profound background in information technologies, I seamlessly blended my technical expertise with my passion for writing, venturing into technology journalism. I've covered a wide range of topics including cutting-edge developments and their impacts on society, contributing to leading tech platforms.

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