The Physics of Smashing a Spacecraft Into an Asteroid


There are a few issues to note. First, after the collision DART is shifting backwards, as a result of it bounced. Since velocity is a vector, meaning that it’ll have a unfavourable momentum on this one-dimensional instance.

Second, the kinetic vitality equation offers with the sq. of the rate. Which means that though DART has a unfavourable velocity, it nonetheless has optimistic kinetic vitality.

We simply have two equations and two variables, so these equations aren’t unimaginable to unravel—however they’re additionally not trivial. Here is what you’d get if you happen to did the mathematics. (When you really need all the main points, I’ve you lined.)

Illustration: Rhett Allain

Utilizing the values for DART and Dimorphos, this provides a ultimate velocity of 1.46 mm/s. That is twice the recoil velocity for the inelastic collision. Because the DART spacecraft bounces again, it has a a lot bigger change in momentum (going from optimistic to unfavourable). Which means that Dimorphos can even have a bigger change in momentum and a bigger change in velocity. It is nonetheless a tiny change—however twice one thing tiny is greater than tiny.

Elastic and inelastic collisions are simply the 2 excessive ends of the collision spectrum. Most fall someplace in between, in that the objects do not stick collectively however kinetic vitality is just not conserved. However you’ll be able to see from the calculations above that one of the simplest ways to alter the trajectory of an asteroid is with an elastic collision.

Taking a look at photos of Dimorphos after the collision, it appears that there’s at the very least some materials ejected from the asteroid. Because the particles strikes in the other way of DART’s authentic movement, it seems that the spacecraft partially bounced again, displaying the rise within the change in Dimorphos’ momentum. That is what you need to see in case your aim is to budge an area rock. With none ejected materials, you’d have one thing nearer to an inelastic collision with a decrease asteroid recoil velocity.

How Can We Measure the Results of the Affect?

As you’ll be able to see from the earlier instance, the best-case situation would change the rate of the asteroid by simply 1.34 millimeters per second. Measuring a velocity change this small is kind of a problem. However Dimorphos has a bonus function—it is a part of a double asteroid system. Bear in mind, it’s orbiting its larger companion, Didymos. That is one of many causes NASA selected this goal. The important thing to discovering the impact of a spacecraft crashing into Dimorphos can be measuring its orbital interval, or the time it takes for the item to make an entire orbit, and seeing if it has modified following the collision.

Dimorphos orbits Didymos in accordance with the identical physics that make the moon orbit the Earth. Since there’s a gravitational interplay between them, Didymos pulls Dimorphos towards their frequent heart of mass—some extent a lot nearer to the middle of Didymos, as a result of it is bigger. This gravitational drive would trigger the 2 objects to finally collide in the event that they each began from relaxation. However that’s not the case. As an alternative, Dimorphos has a velocity that is largely perpendicular to this gravitational drive, which causes it to maneuver in an orbit across the heart of mass. It is doable (however not completely needed) that this orbit is round.