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The asteroid NASA smashed into may still be slowing down

NASA’s impact on the asteroid might have ongoing effects, potentially altering its trajectory and speed.

Dart Misssion
Image Source: Nasa.gov

A year ago, NASA pulled off an asteroid-shifting stunt that left jaws dropping across the cosmos, showcasing our capability to dodge an asteroid collision with Earth. Yet, as we journey through the celestial aftermath, an intriguing plot twist unfolds, one that could have cosmic consequences.

Enter Dimorphos, the asteroid in the spotlight, and NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the protagonist of our tale. Last September, DART went full-throttle, plowing into Dimorphos, an asteroid millions of miles away from our pale blue dot, in a celestial game of cosmic billiards.

Fast forward to the present, and a curious celestial waltz has captured the attention of the Thacher School’s math and science teacher, Jonathan Swift, and his band of student stargazers. Dimorphos, the moon to its larger counterpart Didymos, seems to be playing an unexpected tune. The asteroid, like Earth’s moon to our planet, has taken to slowing down its celestial pirouette around Didymos, and it’s been doing so since the DART spectacle.

Now, bear in mind, tinkering with Dimorphos’ trajectory was the ultimate objective of DART, a mission that NASA hailed as a success shortly after the dramatic impact last autumn. The asteroid’s orbital soiree was trimmed down from 11 hours and 55 minutes to a brisk 11 hours and 23 minutes – well within NASA’s prescribed “minimum successful orbit period change” of 73 seconds. It served as a cosmic confirmation of our ability to thwart a looming asteroid menace.

Yet, the celestial plot thickens. Swift and his cosmic detectives delved deeper into the orbit mystery, and they stumbled upon a celestial conundrum. Dimorphos, more than a month post-DART, continued its leisurely orbit slowdown, a turn of events that few cosmic scholars had anticipated. Most had reckoned it would twirl back to its original tempo post-haste.

Swift himself confessed, “The number we got was slightly larger, a change of 34 minutes. That was inconsistent at an uncomfortable level.”

Though NASA had issued a cautious margin of error of plus or minus two minutes in their initial post-DART findings regarding the orbit’s deceleration, this outcome was still an eyebrow-raiser.

Theories have swirled like cosmic stardust in the aftermath. Some suggest that the asteroid’s rendezvous with DART may have jolted its orbital choreography or even unraveled its gravitational ties with Didymos.

The inquisitive minds of Swift and his young cosmic cohort have scoured their findings for any cosmic missteps, yet no errors have surfaced.

Meanwhile, NASA has a report in the cosmic oven, set to dish out the latest on the DART mission’s unfolding drama. But they face stiff competition from Swift and his starry-eyed scholars, who have already served up their findings to the American Astronomical Society, poised to publish their cosmic manuscript in the near future. A cosmic cliffhanger awaits as we await further cosmic revelations, and the celestial dance of Dimorphos continues to mystify.

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