The probe DART today successfully impacted the small 525-foot-wide asteroid Dimorphus. From the data produced engineers will calculate how much that impact changed Dimorphus’ orbit around it parent asteroid, half-mile-wide Didymos.
The three images to the right give a sense of the approach and impact.
The first, at 2 minutes and 30 seconds from impact, shows Didymos in the left bottom corner. You can actually see individual boulders on its surface. At this distance and resolution is is unclear whether it is a rubble pile or a more solid body. Dimorphus is no longer a mere dot, but no surface features can yet be discerned.
The second image, only seventeen seconds before DART crashed into Dimorphus, shows us the entire asteroid. Though it appears to be a pile of rocks, it also appears less of a rubble pile than both Ryugu and Bennu, visited by probes in 2019 and 2020. Those rubble-piles had almost no smooth surface areas. Dimorphus however at this distance and resolution does appear to have a lot of areas where the surface is relatively smooth, suggesting its structure is more solid than a rubble pile.
At only 525 feet across, some of those bigger boulders are about 50 to 60 feet in diameter.
The white dot in the center of Dimorphus marks the rocks seen in the third image, taken about five seconds before impact. At this resolution so close to the surface, it appears the smooth areas are actually made up of many tiny pebbles and dust.
The biggest rock in the center of the picture is probably between ten to twenty feet in diameter.
The primary data from this mission will not be available for a few weeks. Scientists have to observe both asteroids to see how much, if at all, Dimorphus’s orbit was shifted by the impact. Also, the images from the Italian cubesat, LICIACube Explorer, which was flying parallel to DART and taking pictures of the impact, plume, and back side of Dimorphus, won’t be available until later this week. Those images should give us a measure of the spacecraft’s effect on the asteroid. They will also reveal a lot more about the asteroid’s geology.
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