A new simulation from NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission suggests that rather than leaving a crater behind, the DART impactor could severely deform the small asteroid it will collide with.
from NASA Double asteroid redirection test is an ambitious mission that will test the feasibility of using a “kinetic impactor” to deflect an asteroid towards Earth. (“Kinetic impact” in this case means hitting a spacecraft on rock.) DART launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in November 2021 and is scheduled to reach its target, the near-Earth binary asteroid Didymos and its moon, Dimorphos, in September.
DART will impact Dimorphos at about 4.1 miles per second (6.6 km/s), or 14,760 mph (23,760 km/h), which mission scientists hope will cause the moon’s orbital speed to change by a fraction of a millimeter per second, just enough to alter its orbit around the larger asteroid. While Dimorphos and Didymos pose no threat to Earth, they are perfect candidates for testing the kinetic impactor concept so that if an asteroid were discovered on a collision course with our planet, NASA would have a viable option for planetary defense. It is the agency’s first dedicated planetary defense mission.
Related: DART Asteroid Mission: NASA’s First Planetary Defense Spacecraft
In the new simulation conducted by scientists from the University of Bern and the National Center for Research Competence (NCCR) Planets, the researchers were able to create a new modeling approach that takes into account shock waves and the cratering process that would follow the impact of DART. Unlike previous simulations, this model took into account the fact that Dimorphos may not have a solid core, but a more fragmented and less compacted core.
This new model suggests that the DART mission could eject more material from Dimorphos than expected and potentially alter its course much more strongly than previous estimates.
“Contrary to what one might imagine when imagining an asteroid, direct evidence from space missions such as that of the Japanese space agency (JAXA) Hayabusa2 probe demonstrate that the asteroid may have a very loose internal structure – similar to a pile of rubble – that is held together by gravitational interactions and small cohesive forces,” said lead author Sabina Raducan, a postdoctoral researcher at the University from Bern. declaration (opens in new tab). “This could drastically change the outcome of the collision of DART and Dimorphos.”
A study of the new DART simulation and its results was published (opens in new tab) June 1 in The Planetary Science Journal.