The space photojournalist LiciaCube is the only witness of the impact between the Nasa Dart probe and the asteroid Dimorphos, which occurred in the night between Monday and Tuesday 11 million kilometers from Earth.
NASA’s Dart probe has hit the asteroid Dimorphos
by Elena Dusi
The Italian minisatellite, the size of a shoebox and weighing 14 kilos, made by the Turin-based company Argotec on behalf of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), approached up to 50 kilometers from Dimorphos and for ten minutes after the impact it fired furiously, traveling at 7 kilometers per second and trying to keep the asteroid in the center of its target. In his game bag there are now 620 precious photos, which are slowly coming to us from space.
The first, just shown by Asi and Argotec, clearly show the plume of dust and boulders raised by the impact. To understand if and how much Dart managed to deflect Dimorphos’ orbit around the largest asteroid Didymos, his travel companion, we will have to wait for other elaborations. In the meantime, however, we have the fundamental testimony of LiciaCube: the Dart probe has managed to hit its target. And the satellite made entirely in Italy took over the scene without a smudge.
“About 620 images were taken by LiciaCube, just as we had expected” said the CEO of Argotec, David Avino. “Waking up the satellite shortly before impact, after 15 days of travel in space, and finding it healthy was a huge success. Then at 4.23 on Tuesday morning the first image came, and it was exciting. We understood that we had made it. It was not taken for granted. “
Elisabetta Dotto, scientist of INAF (National Institute of Astrophysics) at the Rome observatory, explained the content of the images: “On the asteroid Dimorphos we can distinguish various feathers, clouds of material raised by the impact. They are stones and dust, made brighter by the sunlight. By studying them in the coming months we will be able to understand a lot of the structure of Dimorphos ”.
The scientific analysis will be carried out by INAF together with the universities of Bologna and Naples Parthenope, the Polytechnic of Milan and the Ifac institute of the CNR.
“It is a golden moment for Italian space activities, we are investing a lot and we are seeing the repercussions” commented the president of ASI, Giorgio Saccoccia. On Wednesday, among other things, astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will take on the role of commander on the International Space Station.
LiciaCube has traveled aboard the NASA Dart probe since its launch from Earth on November 24, 2021. On September 12, when Dimorphos was now in sight, it disengaged to avoid getting involved in the crash, then closely followed Dart to witness the impact.
The approach to Dimorphos took place unaided from Earth. “The satellite was driven by artificial intelligence software,” he explains Valerio Di Tana, program manager of Argotec. “We had uploaded all the parameters necessary for his journey here at our headquarters. Once released into space, LiciaCube was able to optimize the algorithm on the basis of the parameters that he measured around him, in an autonomous way “.
The Dart spacecraft has sighted the target. On September 26, it will hit an asteroid to divert its trajectory
by Elena Dusi