DART, a spacecraft whose mission was to crash into a small asteroid’s moon, photographed stars from more than 3 million kilometers from Earth.
In November, NASA launched the Dual Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft with the goal of bringing the craft at 24,000 km/h into Dimorphos, the small moon orbiting the asteroid Didymos, expected sometime between September 26 to October 1 of the following year. The mission will help determine the feasibility of a method of redirecting the asteroid’s flight path, helping to protect Earth in the future.
About two weeks after launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, DART “opened its eyes” and sent back its first images in space, marking a major operational milestone for the spacecraft and its team. service.
DART uses the DRACO camera to take new pictures. DRACO is a high-resolution camera that captures the asteroid Didymos and the moon Dimorphos, and supports an automatic navigation system to help the spacecraft make its final impact.
On December 7, from a position of about 3.2 million km or 11 light seconds from Earth, DART took an image of more than 10 stars located near the intersection of the constellations Perseus (Fairy), Aries (Aries) ) and Taurus (Taurus).
The DART control team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) relies on the stars in the image to determine which direction DRACO is facing, providing the first measurements of the camera’s relative orientation relative to the camera. spaceship. With these measurements, experts were able to precisely shift the ship to turn the camera towards objects of interest, such as the Messier 38 (M38) star cluster, also known as the Sea Star Cluster, which DART Taken on 10/12.
Located in the constellation Auriga, M38 is about 4,200 light-years from Earth. Actively capturing images containing many stars like M38 helps the team of experts identify optical aberrations in images as well as correct the absolute brightness of an object. These are all important details for accurate measurements when DRACO begins to take pictures of the DART’s destination – the Didymos binary asteroid system.
Before the new images were sent back, scientists and engineers at the DART operations center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory held their breath, NASA said. The reason is that the ship’s telescope is very sensitive to movements as small as 5 millionths of a meter, which means it is very prone to malfunction. Fortunately, there was no such incident and the team of experts received valuable images.