And then it will all be over. DART will plow into Dimorphos, vaporizing the spacecraft. The resulting crater could be up to about 20 meters wide (66 feet) wide, but that ultimately depends on the composition of Dimorphos. By the time we see DART’s transmissions end, the spacecraft will have already been gone for 38 seconds — the time it takes for signals traveling at the speed of light to reach Earth.
How will we know DART succeeded?
It will ultimately take observations from ground-based telescopes to determine whether DART succeeded.
From Earth, Didymos and Dimorphos look like a single point of light from Earth. That point of light fluctuates as the two asteroids pass in front of one another. This allows astronomers to measure Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos.
DART’s impact should lower the time it takes Dimorphos to circle Didymos from roughly 11.9 hours to 11.8 hours, proving that the kinetic impactor technique is capable of shifting an asteroid’s orbit.
The DART team relies on dozens of telescopes around the world for their observations, including the Lowell Discovery Telescope in Arizona, the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, the Las Cumbres Observatory global network, and the Magdalena Ridge Observatory in New Mexico.
What will DART’s CubeSat do?
Roughly 10 days before impact, DART will deploy a CubeSat named LICIACube, the Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids.
Built by the Italian Space Agency, LICIACube’s goal is to observe DART’s impact, the plume it generates, and possibly the resulting crater. It will do so from a distance of about 50 kilometers (31 miles) using two cameras named LUKE and LEIA.
Don’t expect images from LICIACube right away: The CubeSat can only communicate with Earth using slow data rates, so it could take months for all of its data to get sent home to scientists.
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