A teacher and his students discovered something about the asteroid NASA recently hit with a missile to “save mankind” – and it's acting strange.
In September 2022 the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) fired a fridge-sized spacecraft at Dimorphos, part of a two-asteroid system.
The experiment was designed to test whether a potentially hazardous asteroid could be diverted away from the Earth and therefore help save mankind.
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But now, Dimorphos is “behaving mysteriously” and its orbit has continued to shrink since the collision.
But scientists initially expected the vessel to slow down, eventually stabilising.
High school teacher at Thacher School in California, US, Jonathan Swift noticed something strange when observing the asteroid in the school's observatory.
According to New Scientist, they realised the orbit of Dimorphos dropped by another minute more than a month after the collision in September 2022.
Speaking to the publication, Swift said: “The number we got was slightly larger, a change of 34 minutes. That was inconsistent at an uncomfortable level.”
The educator presented their findings to the American Astronomical Society in New Mexico in June.
"We tried our best to find the crack in what we had done, but we couldn’t find anything," he added.
Some scientists believe Dimorphos' orbit is tumbling – a phenomenon which refers to tidal forces changing an object’s orbital period.
The coordination lead on DART at John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Nancy Chabot confirmed they are investigating and will publish their findings soon.
“It’s really good to know what we did to Dimorphos,” said Chabot.
“Those specific details are key to applying this technique in the future if you needed to.”
The Daily Star previously reported that following the launch NASA’s teams confirmed for the first time in history that it has learned how to defend humans from an asteroid impact – meaning mankind could be saved from the threat that ended the reign of the dinosaurs.
The DART impactor, which used 1,100lb of force to hit the asteroid and released energy equivalent to about three tonnes of TNT, shaved just more than half an hour off the time it takes the small asteroid Dimorphos to orbit its larger companion Didymos.
Before the impact, the team hoped to shorten the orbit time by about seven minutes. But asteroids are complex bodies, and how densely-packed they are is hard to predict.
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