Something strange is happening with NASA’s asteroid crash

Rush around

Nearly a year ago, NASA successfully smashed into an asteroid for the first time, in a historic test to see if we could divert a deadly space rock before disaster — but now, the asteroid in question is behaving strangely.

like new world A teacher and his students have apparently discovered that the orbit of Dimorphos, the space rock destroyed by the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) last September, has apparently continued to slow, unexpectedly, in the year since the refrigerator-sized craft crashed.

Jonathan Swift, a math and science teacher at the Thacher School in California, and his team of student astronomers discovered that Demorphos, which orbits the larger near-Earth asteroid Didymos in the same way our Moon orbits Earth, was constantly orbiting slower around it. Didymos than before the DART test.


To be clear, changing the pathway of dimorphos was the goal of the DART test.

As NASA announced a few weeks after the impact last fall, it had succeeded in doing just that, lowering the asteroid’s orbit by a full half-hour, from 11 hours and 55 minutes to 11 hours and 23 minutes. Given that the space agency’s “minimum successful orbital period change” was 73 seconds, this means that the DART test, which showed whether or not Earth is capable of smashing into near-Earth asteroids, was a resounding success.

But as Swift and his team at Thacher Observatory found when looking at Dimorphos’ orbit more than a month after the initial impact, the asteroid’s orbit appears to have changed. I continued to slow down – an inexplicable turn of events, considering that most astronomers expected it to return to its original orbital speed very quickly.

“The number we got was a little bit higher, by 34 minutes,” Swift said. new world. “That was inconsistent on an uncomfortable level.”

Speaking theoretically

Although NASA said in its original post-DART results that the orbit deceleration had a margin of error of plus or minus two minutes, the orbit change is a startling result — though some theories suggest the impact may have “knocked down” Dimorphos. Orbit, or opened by the tidal forces of Didymos.

“We tried our best to find the crack in what we did, but we couldn’t find anything,” Swift explained.

NASA will also release a report soon on the latest update to the DART mission, a NASA spokesperson said new world But the agency will have to compete with Swift and his students, whose results were shared this summer with the American Astronomical Society, which will soon publish their paper.

More about asteroids: Artificial intelligence now identifies killer asteroids before they approach Earth

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