NASA’s DART asteroid mission captured an image of Jupiter and its four large moons to test the autonomous navigation system that will lead the spacecraft to an asteroid collision next week.
The photo, released by NASA on Tuesday (September 20), was actually taken during the summer, when Arrow It was about 16 million miles (26 million km) away from a land And cruising towards its target, the binary asteroid system Didymus and dimorphos. DART factors have been used Jupiter and its four Galilean satellites to check how close objects appear to each other for the DRACO camera, DART’s only instrument and the heart of DART’s Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation (SMART Nav) system.
The team focused in particular on Jupiter’s moon Europathe closest moon to Jupiter to the right of the planet in the image, which Draco saw visually separated from gas giant DART also traveled. Likewise, the small asteroid Dimorphos will separate from the larger Didymos, which is orbiting it, during the final DART approach to collide with Dimorphos. The test on Europa, which took place on July 1 and August 2, was the first validation of DRACO’s capabilities to be performed in space.
“Jupiter’s tests have given us the opportunity for DRACO to image something in our solar system,” said Carolyn Ernst, a DRACO instrument scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), who is leading the mission, at NASA. statement (Opens in a new tab). “The images look great, and we’re excited about what DRACO will reveal about Didymus and Demorphos in the hours and minutes leading up to the impact!”
The team analyzed the intensity of the objects and the number of pixels each object in the image occupied as it moved through the field of view. (The image, left to right, shows Ganymede, Jupiter, Europa, Io and Callisto.)
DRACO camera, which is based on technology originally developed for new Horizons The mission you explored PlutoDART will guide Dimorphos completely independently, NASA officials wrote in the statement. NASA said the ground-based observation team may only intervene in the event of “significant and mission-threatening deviations from expectations.” Thus, improving camera performance will help teams better interpret the situation right before the impact.
“Every time we run one of these tests, we tweak the displays, making them a little better and a little more responsive to what we’ll actually be looking at during a real station event,” Peter Eriksen, SMART Nav software engineer at APL, in a NASA statement.
DART is set to crash Dimorphos on Monday (September 26) in a first-of-its-kind experiment designed to change the orbit of a celestial body. The goal is to slightly speed up Demorphos’ orbit around Didymus, a technology that could one day be used to protect Earth from a space rock threat.
Coincidentally, on Sunday (September 25), Jupiter will achieve its goal Closest approach to Earth in 59 years. On the day of the DART collision, the planet will be directly across from the Earth compared to the Sun in what astronomers call opposition. This combination means skywatchers won’t need a spacecraft to get a stunning view of the gas giant, just binoculars or a telescope.