Runaway Boulders: Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Dimorphos' Escape Act

Credit image: NASA/ESA/Hubble
Credit image: NASA/ESA/Hubble

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 20 July 2023, at 12:01 pm PDT

In a fascinating cosmic discovery, astronomers have used the Hubble Space Telescope to find a bunch of boulders that seem to have gone on a wild joyride. And guess what? It's all because of NASA's space slam party!

Let me explain. See, NASA decided to have some fun with the asteroid Dimorphos and threw a party by crashing the DART impactor spacecraft into it at a staggering 22,500 kilometers per hour. Yeah, that's right, they did it on purpose! As a result of this cosmic collision, the orbit of Dimorphos around its bigger buddy, Didymos, got a little nudge and they gave it no chance of colliding with our planet.

But here's the kicker – during this asteroid fender-bender, about 37 boulders were flung off Dimorphos into the great unknown. And those boulders are quite the wanderers, floating away from the asteroid at a leisurely one kilometer per hour. These space rock stowaways vary in size, ranging from one meter to a whopping 6.7 meters across. They're like a bunch of celestial hitchhikers on a slow interstellar ride.

Now, don't let their sizes confuse you; they may be enormous, but in the grand scheme of things, they're just tiny pebbles compared to Dimorphos' overall mass. These boulders collectively weigh about 0.1% of the asteroid's total heft. It's like finding a few breadcrumbs scattered around a massive cosmic cake.

Now, with these boulders drifting off and doing their thing, scientists are all excited about using the upcoming Hera mission by the European Space Agency to study the aftermath of this cosmic crash party. Hera, set to launch in 2024, will swoop in to give Dimorphos a thorough post-impact check-up. Talk about celestial medical care!

Oh, and here's where it gets even more intriguing – it turns out that these boulders weren't shattered off the asteroid's surface due to the crash. Nope! They were already hanging out there, minding their own business. Just a little snapshot from the DART spacecraft before the collision, and you'd see these boulders scattered around like some pre-impact party decorations.

So, why and how did these cosmic pebbles manage to take off? Scientists are considering a few possibilities – maybe they got caught in an ejecta plume, or perhaps the impact sent seismic shockwaves through the asteroid, shaking things up like hitting a bell with a hammer. It's like the asteroid's version of a rock and roll concert!

Now, Dimorphos is a mysterious little guy. Some believe it could have formed long ago from the stuff flung out by its bigger sibling, Didymos. Imagine that – it's like someone else's mess becoming your chance to shine. A true cosmic Cinderella story!

One thing's for sure, these findings are exciting, and it opens up new doors for understanding the wild ways of asteroids in space. Who knows, maybe someday we'll even use this cosmic collision trick for real planetary defense. Now that's thinking ahead! Well, you can't blame us for preparing for unexpected space shenanigans.

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