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NASA Launches DART, to Learn how to Defend the Earth From a Future Asteroid Impact – Universe Today

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In the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, Nov. 24th, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) launched from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base (SFB) in California. This spacecraft is the world’s first full-scale mission to demonstrate technologies that could someday be used to defend our planet from Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) that could potentially collide with Earth.

Put simply, the DART mission is a kinetic impactor that will evaluate a proposed method for deflecting asteroids. Over the next ten months, the DART mission will autonomously navigate towards the target asteroid – the binary NEA (65803) Didymos – and intentionally collide with it. If everything goes according to plan, this will alter the asteroid’s motion so that ground-based telescopes can accurately measure any changes.

The launch took place at 01:31 AM EST (Tues. Nov. 23rd, 10:31 PM PST) when the DART mission took off from SLC-4E atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. At 02:17 AM (11:17 PM PST), DART separated from the booster’s second stage and began sending telemetry data back to missions controllers minutes later. About two hours later, the spacecraft unfurled the two 8.5-meter (28-foot) large solar arrays that will power its Solar-Electric Propulsion (SEP) thruster.

Fourteen sequential Arecibo radar images of the near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos and its moonlet. Credit: NASA/Arecibo

The collaborative DART effort was built and is led by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL). The mission is managed under NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office and Planetary Science Division, with support provided by multiple NASA centers. The mission is compromised of multiple elements provided by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and other partner agencies. As NASA Administrator Bill Nelson explained in a recent NASA press release:

“DART is turning science fiction into science fact and is a testament to NASA’s proactivity and innovation for the benefit of all. In addition to all the ways NASA studies our universe and our home planet, we’re also working to protect that home, and this test will help prove out one viable way to protect our planet from a hazardous asteroid should one ever be discovered that is headed toward Earth.”

“At its core, DART is a mission of preparedness, and it is also a mission of unity,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. “This international collaboration involves DART, ASI’s LICIACube, and ESA’s Hera investigations and science teams, which will follow up on this groundbreaking space mission.”

The mission consists of two spacecraft, the 610 kg (1,340 lb) impactor that relies on the NEXT ion thruster, a type of solar electric propulsion that uses solar arrays to power its NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster–Commercial (NEXT-C) engine. The target for this mission, named for the Greek word “twin,” consists of a larger primary asteroid (65803) named Didymos, and an orbiting moonlet named Dimorphos.

Artist’s impression of the DART mission rendezvousing with the NEA Didymos. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

Whereas (65803) Didymos measures about 780 meters (2,560 ft) in diameter, Dimorphos is less than one-quarter the size (160 m; 530 ft). This moonlet will be the primary target for DART, which will rendezvous with the system between Sept. 26th and Oct. 1st, 2022. At this time, the binary asteroid’s orbit will bring it within 11 million km (6.8 million mi) from Earth, where DART will be waiting to collide with Dimorphos at a speed of about 6 km/s (4 mi/s).

Scientists estimate that this will shorten Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by several minutes, which they will precisely measure using ground-based telescopes. The results will be used to validate and improve the computer models that are currently used to predict the outcomes of asteroid deflection. This change in speed will be far easier to measure than a change in Didymos’ orbital velocity (hence why Dimorphos was selected).

The DART spacecraft will be accompanied by a second spacecraft called the Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube), provided by the Italian Space Agency (ASI). This small CubeSat will piggyback with DART, separate ten days before impact, then capture images of the impact’s effect and the ejecta created. Roughly four years after DART impacts the moonlet, the ESA’s Hera project will arrive at Didymos to conduct detailed surveys of both asteroids.

This test will provide vital data that will be used to develop improved preparations and strategies for asteroid defense. While Didymos does not currently pose a threat to Earth, it is classified as a “potentially hazardous asteroid.” This designation applies to asteroids measuring 100 m (~330ft) or more in diameter and whose orbit brings them within 0.05 AU (7.5 million km) of Earth.

Artist’s impression of the Hera mission examining Dimorphos after the DART impact. Credit: ESA/Science Office

In the past, impacts by these similarly-sized objects are believed to have caused extinction level events (ELEs), such as the Chicxulub Impact Event that triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs. As Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters, said:

“We have not yet found any significant asteroid impact threat to Earth, but we continue to search for that sizable population we know is still to be found. Our goal is to find any possible impact, years to decades in advance, so it can be deflected with a capability like DART that is possible with the technology we currently have. DART is one aspect of NASA’s work to prepare Earth should we ever be faced with an asteroid hazard.

“In tandem with this test, we are preparing the Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission, a space-based infrared telescope scheduled for launch later this decade and designed to expedite our ability to discover and characterize the potentially hazardous asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit.”

Next week, DART will activate the only instrument it carries – the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO) – and take the spacecraft’s first images. In addition to its sophisticated navigation system, DART will rely on a series of Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation (SMART Nav) algorithms. These will enable DART to identify and distinguish between the two asteroids, then direct itself towards Dimorphos.

Image released by the European Space Agency that shows DART impacting the binary asteroid system (65803) Didymos. Credit: ESA/AFP

Joan Marie is a science communicator, STEM advocate, and an Aerospace Integration Engineer with the NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC). She and her colleagues worked through the night in order to prepare the DART mission for launch at Vandenburg SFB. “It felt amazing,” she said. “Being able to see (visually) the hard work our team put into this launch was an incredible feeling.”

Also present was Andy Cheng, one of the DART investigation leads at JHUAPL and the individual who came up with the idea of DART. As he described it, seeing the mission he conceived take flight was a dream come true:

“It is an indescribable feeling to see something you’ve been involved with since the ‘words on paper’ stage become real and launched into space. This is just the end of the first act, and the DART investigation and engineering teams have much work to do over the next year preparing for the main event? DART’s kinetic impact on Dimorphos. But tonight we celebrate!”

Further Reading: NASA

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Awesome Photo Shows James Webb Space Telescope in Deep Space Home – Futurism

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It’s amazing.

Parking Spot

Breathe easy, fellow space nerds. 

The much-anticipated James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is unfurled and parked in its final orbit, roughly one million miles away from Earth.

While we’ll likely never see it up close and personal ever again, a remotely-controlled telescope has provided us with one of the first images of the Webb in orbit — showing the JWST as a distant dot that’s virtually indistinguishable amongst the stars and galaxies in the image. 

Check out the photo for yourself below:

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Credit: Virtual Telescope Project

Robot Astronomer

The stunning image itself was captured by a 17-inch telescope dubbed “Elena.” It’s managed by the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0, which provides astronomers access to two remotely-controlled robotic telescopes in Rome, Italy. 

The photo was snapped just as the Webb arrived at its final destination at the Lagrange Point 2 (L2) — and if that’s not enough for you, they were able to cobble together a short video of it moving through the inky blackness of space. 

Webb’s Future

NASA initially estimated that the Webb had enough fuel for a roughly 10 year mission. During that time, scientists hope that it’ll provide us with the most detailed — and hopefully revealing — images of deep space we’ve ever seen.  

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However, some experts believe it’ll be able to work for a lot longer than that. 

“You’ve heard numbers around 20 years. We think that’s probably a good ballpark,” Keith Parrish, the JWST observatory commissioning manager at NASA, said in a press teleconference attended by SpaceNews  after the Webb reached L2 on Monday.  “This is capping off just a remarkable 30 days.”

So hopefully, we’ll have plenty more images of — and from — the Webb for a long time to come. 

More on James Webb Space Telescope: Famed Physicist: Soon-to-Launch Telescope Likely to Discover Alien Life

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Astronomers spy powerful deep-space object unlike anything seen before – CNET

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An artist’s impression of what the object might look like if it’s a magnetar. Magnetars are incredibly magnetic neutron stars, some of which sometimes produce radio emissions. Known magnetars rotate every few seconds, but, theoretically, “ultra-long-period magnetars” could rotate much more slowly.


ICRAR

A team led by astronomers in Australia has discovered a brand new type of object in deep space that behaves in bizarre and mysterious ways never seen before. 

Something about 4,000 light-years away, which is relatively close in our cosmic neighborhood, was seen spinning around and regularly blasting out a massive burst of energy that lasts a full a minute. Even weirder, that bright beam of radiation occurred like clockwork every 18 minutes. 

“It was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there’s nothing known in the sky that does that,” astrophysicist Natasha Hurley-Walker said in a statement. 

The behavior is similar to that of a pulsar or magnetar, which spin around as they blast out pulses of energy that can be detected here on Earth. But pulsars pulse very quickly, usually every few seconds. An object that sends out longer bursts just a few times an hour has never been seen before. 

Hurley-Walker led a team from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research that made the discovery, with assistance from the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory. She’s also lead author on a paper detailing the find in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. 

This odd object was originally spotted by Curtin student Tyrone O’Doherty using the Murchison Widefield Array telescope in outback Western Australia. The MWA is a radio observatory that can observe a wide swath of the sky over a wide range of frequencies. 

“It’s exciting that the source I identified last year has turned out to be such a peculiar object,” said O’Doherty, who is working on his Ph.D.

The galactic peculiarity could be the collapsed core of a star with an ultra-powerful magnetic field. Hurley-Walker explains that it has the characteristics of something astrophysicists have theorized called an “ultra-long-period magnetar.”

“It’s a type of slowly spinning neutron star that has been predicted to exist theoretically,” she said. “But nobody expected to directly detect one like this because we didn’t expect them to be so bright. Somehow it’s converting magnetic energy to radio waves much more effectively than anything we’ve seen before.”

For now, the unusual object has stopped sending out pulses that we can see, but Hurley-Walker says she is continuing to monitor it with the Murchison Widefield Array telescope in case it starts up again. 

“If it does, there are telescopes across the Southern Hemisphere and even in orbit that can point straight to it,” she added.

She also plans to go back into the MWA’s archives to see if this object is just one member of a larger family that’s gone unnoticed until now. 

“More detections will tell astronomers whether this was a rare one-off event or a vast new population we’d never noticed before.” 

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SpaceX rocket booster on collision course with the moon – Globalnews.ca

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An out-of-control booster from a SpaceX rocket has been drifting through space for seven years, and astronomers say it’s now on a collision course with the moon.

The booster was originally launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral in February 2015 as part of the Falcon 9 interplanetary mission.

Read more:

Remember that mysterious moon cube? Scientists now know what it is

The booster, also known as the second stage, was left derelict and on a shaky orbit after propelling the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Deep Space Climate Observatory far into space to help monitor space weather.

Here, it was left in a kind of purgatory, where it was too far from Earth to tumble back down, but not far enough to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth-moon system.

Bill Gray of space blog projectpluto.com first reported the upcoming crash, and said he believes it’s “the first unintentional case” of space junk colliding with the moon.

Gray, along with other space observers, believes the booster, which weighs approximately four metric tons, will strike the far side of the moon near its equator at 2.58 kilometres per second on March 4.

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Unlike Earth, the moon doesn’t have a thick atmosphere to help break up foreign objects, so the booster is expected to slam into the surface and add another mark to the moon’s already heavily cratered crust.

Astronomers, including Harvard University’s own Jonathan McDowell, say that there’s nothing to worry about — this won’t destroy the moon or really cause much damage.

Even still, it’s tough to predict exactly what will happen and where the booster will hit as there are many extraneous factors like sunlight “pushing” on the rocket and “ambiguity in measuring rotation periods,” which may slightly alter its orbit, according to Gray.

Because it looks like the booster will hit the far side of the moon, it will more than likely not be visible to the naked eye (or with a telescope) from Earth. Additionally, the collision is projected to take place a few days after the new moon, which means the majority of the moon will be obscured from vision anyway.

Read more:

Neil Young threatens to pull music from Spotify over Joe Rogan vaccine ‘disinformation’

Interestingly, while this may be the first instance of space junk hitting the moon, it’s not the first time a human-made device has collided with it; NASA launched a rocket at the moon in 2009 — on purpose — in order to detect what would emerge upon impact.

The LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) mission and collision, which was not visible from Earth, helped confirm that there is water on the moon.

Many space experts and enthusiasts are excited for the upcoming crash, as it could also inadvertently provide further information about our satellite neighbour.

As of this writing, SpaceX and NASA have not publicly commented on the impending collision.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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