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LCO Scientist Tim Lister wins major award from NASA

Jun 26, 2024

LCO Senior Scientist Dr. Tim Lister is a specialist in solar system science and the discovery and analysis of Near Earth Objects. Image courtesy of Las Cumbres Observatory.

Dr. Lister will be a Participating Scientist in the Hera Mission

LCO Senior Scientist Dr. Tim Lister has received the good news that he has been selected as a NASA Participating Scientist in the upcoming European Space Agency Hera Mission. NASA announced the 12 US-based Participating Scientists in a press release yesterday. Hera will be launched in October 2024 and will be the follow-up to the hugely successful NASA DART planetary defense mission of 2022.

DART was a kinetic impactor test that sent a spacecraft into the moon Dimorphos of the binary asteroid Didymos with the aim of deflecting its orbit. After impact, the asteroid’s orbit time was altered by 33 minutes, proving that planetary defense can be conducted by altering the motion of an asteroid.

Under the leadership of Dr. Lister, LCO telescopes captured the DART moment of impact and continued to take observations of the asteroid and its debris plume for several months. Data taken by LCO were vital to the work that characterized the impact and calculated the resulting change in orbit time. In May of this year, Dr. Lister et al. published a significant paper on the DART data obtained with the LCO telescope network.

The Hera spacecraft will meet up with Didymos in October 2026 and will take data from the asteroid system with new technologies. The grant from NASA supports Dr. Lister’s work using LCO telescopes for the investigation of the ongoing evolution of the Didymos system.

Specifically, observations will be taken from the LCO 2-meter telescope in Australia, with its multi-channel imager, during 2024 and 2026 when Didymos is closest to Earth. Dr. Lister and his team will be measuring light curves to try and determine whether the DART-induced change in orbit time has remained constant and whether the impact caused any wobbling or tumbling in the orbit of Dimorphos. Didymos will not be visible to telescopes during 2025, when it will be on the far side of its orbit.

Dr. Lister is grateful to NASA for the continued support of his work and is looking forward to receiving data from Hera. Tim Lister said, “It will be great to be able to continue the international partnership for planetary defense that was started with NASA’s DART mission through involvement with ESA’s Hera mission. By making observations of Didymos with LCO and other telescopes in advance of the Hera spacecraft arriving in the Didymos system, we can better plan the science investigation. This will allow us to fully characterize Didymos and Dimorphos and accurately measure the impact of the DART mission and better understand the effectiveness of this type of mission for planetary defense”.

Las Cumbres Observatory congratulates Tim Lister and his team on their many accomplishments and is looking forward to continued participation in the important work of planetary defense.

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This artist’s concept shows ESA’s Hera spacecraft and its CubeSats in orbit around the Dimorphos moonlet. Image courtesy of ESA-Science Office.