Before DART crashed, its satellite took a picture of Earth

Before witnessing the impact of DART on Dimorphos, the small satellite LICIACube turned to another target. He saw the Earth and the Moon, two small fuzzy dots 11 million kilometers from him.

The DART probe crashed into an asteroid. However, everything was planned: it was a test, the very first in the history of humanity, to try to modify the trajectory of an asteroid in space. The impact of DART could be immortalized in stunning images. A small satellite called LICIACube was used in particular to capture, in space, the deflection exercise of the asteroid Dimorphos.

But LICIACube also had time to observe something else. ” Before witnessing the impact of the DART mission on Dimorphos, the Italian satellite aimed its instruments at our planet and its satellite », has indicated the Twitter account of the LICIACube mission, October 2, 2022. Indeed, the small satellite was able to transmit a “ interplanetary selfie with two fuzzy dots that turn out to be the Earth and the Moon.

The Earth, a blue spot 11 million km from LICIACube

The Italian space agency does not mention the exact date on which this image was obtained. We simply know that the capture dates from before the collision of DART with Dimorphos, which occurred on the night of September 26 to 27. When the impact occurred, the mission was at a distance of 11 million kilometers from our planet. It seems quite dizzying to think, looking at this photo of the Earth, that it was from this little blue spot that astronomers around the world began to monitor the consequences of the DART crash on Dimorphos.

How will we know if the DART ship has deflected the asteroid on which it crashed? It will take time: scientists will use the fact that Dimorphos is a moon, orbiting another asteroid (Didymos). The eclipses of this couple of asteroids make it possible to capture regular drops in luminosity over time (since, from our point of view, one of the two asteroids passes in front of the other, then vice versa). By tracking the times when eclipses occur, astronomers can determine how long it takes Dimorphos to orbit Didymos. We expect to see this parameter change gradually, since the impact of DART.

Remember that Didymos and its moon do not represent any proven danger for our planet. This binomial is certainly classified in the category of potentially dangerous objects. This means that its trajectory brings it close to our planet, and that it is therefore monitored. But, to date, no concrete risk of an asteroid impact on Earth has been proven. However, this does not preclude preparing for this eventuality.

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Source: Numerama by www.numerama.com.

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