DART-OPTiK Telescope in Kenya Observes NASA DART Mission in Real-Time

The first members of the DART Optic Team in Ileret. From left: Woto Huka, Meghan Leishman, Cyrielle Opitom and Colin Snodgrass. Source: Turkana Basin Institute

The DART – OPTiK team, a collaboration of researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Technical University of Kenya and the Turkana Basin Institute, was one of the first to observe the NASA DART mission in real-time. The team leveraged a portable 0.4-metre Telescope it had installed in Ileret for this purpose.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is NASA’s demonstration of kinetic impactor technology, impacting an asteroid to adjust its speed and path. DART is the first-ever space mission to demonstrate asteroid deflection by kinetic impactor. The spacecraft launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket out of Vandenberg Space Force Base in California and made impact on the asteroid today by 02:14 am Kenya time (GMT+3).

The purpose of NASA’s first ever planetary defence test is to demonstrate that the path of an asteroid through space is alterable using a ‘kinetic impactor’. This is a spacecraft that operators deliberately crash into the asteroid at high speed. Although the target asteroid does not pose a danger to Earth, NASA expects that It can use the technology if an asteroid on an Earth-impacting trajectory is discovered. NASA carried out the test on a binary asteroid system, which includes a large asteroid (Didymos, 780m diameter) and a smaller moon (Dimorphos, 163m) orbiting it. The DART spacecraft hit Dimorphos at 14,000 mph, slightly changing its orbit around Didymos.

The observatories in the Americas were largely unable to witness the actual impact until four hours after as the collision happened in the daytime. On the other hand, the DART – OPTiK telescope was able to observe the impact as it happened and was able to monitor its immediate effects. After the impact, the telescope is now monitoring Didymos’ orbit using its lightcurve.

The team will also use the telescope for astronomical tests to discern whether the site is suitable for a permanent observatory in the future. Furthermore, the team hopes to be able to continue observations in Kenya and help to increase the astronomy utility in the Country. In addition, the team is also working with the Technical University of Kenya and the Kenya Space Agency to strengthen the capacity for local astronomy and facilitate new research in the region.

You can watch the moment of impact here.


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