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When will we know how much DART changed the orbit of asteroid Dimorphos?

All eyes will be on asteroid Dimorphos tonight (Sept. 26) as NASA’s DART spacecraft slams into it with the goal of changing the asteroid’s orbit around the larger space rock Didymos. But we will not know immediately whether or not the first-of-its-kind experiment succeeded? After the impact, all eyes will keep watching Dimorphos for several weeks, increasing the suspense of this mock apocalypse-averting exercise. 

When observed from Earth, the Didymos-Dimorphos binary asteroid appears like a single tiny dot of light amid a star-studded sky. The dot periodically brightens and dims as the 525-foot-wide (160 m) asteroid moonlet Dimorphos moves around the larger, 2,560-foot-wide (780 m) Didymos, temporarily eclipsing it. It is from the frequency of these dips in brightness that astronomers have managed to accurately establish the orbital period of Dimorphos (11 hours and 55 minutes), and it is also from these dips that they will be able to calculate how much Dimorphos’ orbit will have changed after the DART impact. The asteroid is expected to get pushed closer to Didymos, speeding up its orbital period by up to several minutes. But nobody knows when exactly this acceleration and subsequent orbital shortening will be observable . 

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