Image Credit: Tim Lister, Joseph Chatelain, Rachel Street, Edward Gomez, Joseph Farah / LCO.
The NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission — the first test mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office — launched a spacecraft last November aimed to crash into the binary near-Earth asteroid system Didymos. The DART impact with the smaller asteroid Dimorphos occurred on September 26.
LCO is pleased that its 1-m telescopes in South Africa captured the moment of impact and the resulting debris plume. The video of this event is available on the LCO YouTube channel.
The DART mission was designed to test our ability to deflect an asteroid by crashing into the moon of the Didymos system. This system is an ideal target because it is a binary system that can be easily observed by ground-based telescopes.
Las Cumbres Observatory, along with other ground-based observatories, is contracted to make observations of the near-Earth objects during the mission. The work conducted at LCO is under the direction of Dr. Tim Lister, who heads the group studying Near-Earth Objects, that includes Solar System scientist Dr. Joey Chatelain and Education Director Dr. Edward Gomez.
Measurements of the time it takes for Dimorphos to orbit Didymos will show how much the DART impact has changed Dimorphos’s orbital period and the amount of momentum or “push” produced by the DART impact. LCO began observations to detect the change in the period of Dimorphos on September 29, three days after impact, when the system was still visible from the Southern Hemisphere. LCO is well placed to perform follow up observations with telescopes in Chile, South Africa and Australia, in addition to facilities in the Northern Hemisphere.
Dr. Tim Lister is looking forward to studying the results of LCO observations, “We are very pleased to be a part of the DART project. The unique capabilities of the LCO network are providing invaluable data that are an essential element to the protection of our planet. We are pleased that our telescopes in South Africa allowed us to be some of the first people to see the impact of DART and its after effects. We were surprised by the size of the effects, which were much bigger than predicted, but this shows why we should run these tests.”
This work is supported by the DART mission, NASA Contract No. 80MSFC20D0004. Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab manages the DART mission for NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office as a project of the agency's Planetary Missions Program Office. DART is the world's first planetary defense test mission, intentionally executing a kinetic impact into Dimorphos to slightly change its motion in space. While the asteroid does not pose any threat to Earth, the DART mission’s purpose is to demonstrate that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a kinetic impact on a relatively small asteroid and to prove this is a viable technique to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth if one is ever discovered.