How to Change an Asteroids Trajectory


Written by Frankie Cameron

Do you think it’s possible to change an asteroid’s trajectory? With its Double Asteroid Redirection Test last month, NASA proved you can.

DART stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, a NASA spacecraft designed to hit an asteroid for testing. Dimorphos, DART’s target asteroid, does not pose a threat to Earth, however, the Didymos asteroid system provides the perfect opportunity to test whether it is practical to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid to alter its course if an asteroid poses a threat to Earth in the future.

The DART’s Focus

As the first mission of its kind, DART explores one method of deflecting asteroid motion through kinetic impact. Essentially, the purpose of the DART is to observe the response of an asteroid following a kinetic impact. Earth-based telescopes will measure the asteroid’s motion after the collision with Dimorphos.

Image courtesy of NASA

The Results

DART’s kinetic impact with Dimorphos, its target asteroid, was successful on September 26th. After studying the data from the test for two weeks, NASA confirmed the successful change of Dimorphos’ orbit. This marks humanity’s first attempt at changing the motion of a celestial object on a large scale.

New Rotation

Dimorphos took 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit its larger parent asteroid, Didymos, before DART’s impact. Using telescopes on Earth, astronomers have measured how much time has changed since DART collided with Dimorphos on Sept. 26. According to the investigation team, the spacecraft’s impact shortened Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by 32 minutes, shortening its 11 hours and 55-minute orbit to 11 hours and 23 minutes. An error margin of about 2 minutes is essential for this measurement.

The minimum successful orbital change for Dimorphos before its encounter was 73 seconds. Using these early results, DART outperformed this benchmark by over 25 times.

Final Thoughts

Neither Dimorphos nor Didymos posed any hazard to Earth before or after DART’s controlled collision. Does this test sound like science fiction? Maybe the movie Armageddon needs to be updated. Let me know in the comments.


Until next time

Images courtesy of NASA.

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