VLT Observes Asteroid Didymos before DART Impact

by johnsmith

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft is set to crash into Dimorphos, a moon of the asteroid Didymos, on September 26, 2022, at 7:14 p.m. EDT (23:14 UTC).

Didymos as seen on the night of September 25/26, 2022 with ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Image credit: ESO / Bagnulo et al.

Didymos as seen on the night of September 25/26, 2022 with ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Image credit: ESO / Bagnulo et al.

DART is the first-ever mission dedicated to investigating and demonstrating one method of asteroid deflection by changing an asteroid’s motion in space through kinetic impact.

Its target is the binary, near-Earth asteroid system Didymos, composed of the 780-m-wide Didymos and the smaller, approximately 160-m-wide moonlet Dimorphos.

DART launched November 24, 2021, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, the United States.

The probe will impact Dimorphos to change its orbit within the binary system.

Since Dimorphos orbits Didymos at much a slower relative speed than the pair orbits the Sun, the result of DART’s kinetic impact within the binary system can be measured much more easily than a change in the orbit of a single asteroid around the Sun.

“You’ve got the small asteroid passing in front of the big one and then the other way around,” said Dr. Cyrielle Opitom, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the DART mission science team.

“Due to that we are going to observe dips in the light reflected from the big asteroid, letting us calculate how much the orbital period of the smaller one has changed after the impact.”

The material following the crash will also hopefully provide scientists with more information about the composition of Dimorphos.

“At Paranal Observatory in Chile, all four 8.2-m telescopes of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) will observe the aftermath of the impact with different instruments,” ESO astronomers said.

“The resulting data will allow us to study the composition and motion of the ejected material, the structure of the asteroid’s surface and its internal properties.”

“The results of this experiment may provide a method of protecting our planet from hazardous asteroids but will also deepen our understanding of asteroids and hence the formation of our Solar System.”

Source link: https://www.sci.news/space/vlt-asteroid-didymos-11233.html

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