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DART Team Earns Smithsonian Michael Collins Trophy for Successful Planetary Defense Test Mission
Eric Long, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will be honored with the 2024 Michael Collins Trophy for Current Achievement. For its work developing and managing the first-ever planetary defense test mission, the team comprised by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) is being lauded for outstanding achievements in the fields of aerospace science and technology.
Designed, built and operated by APL for NASA’s PDCO, which oversees the agency’s ongoing efforts in planetary defense, DART was humanity’s first mission to intentionally move a celestial object, impacting the asteroid Dimorphos on Sept. 26, 2022. DART’s collision with Dimorphos changed the asteroid’s orbit period around its companion asteroid, Didymos, by 33 minutes.
“Our planetary defense objective is to find any potential asteroid impact many years to decades before it could happen so that, if ever necessary, the object could be deflected with technology tested by DART,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters. “The DART team was an international collaboration of planetary defenders who turned the kinetic impact concept of asteroid deflection into reality. Their efforts have taken a giant leap forward for humanity’s ability to address the asteroid impact hazard.”
The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum awards its Michael Collins Trophy yearly for both Current and Lifetime Achievements. The DART mission has earned the former, joining astronaut Peggy Whitson, who will collect the 2024 Lifetime Achievement Award for her distinguished space career.
Since 1985, the organization has been recognizing extraordinary accomplishments in aeronautics and spaceflight, and it selected DART for its “extraordinary technological advancements and new scientific breakthroughs in space science.”
Launched in November 2021 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, DART embarked on a 10-month journey to Dimorphos. This historic mission showcased the world’s first planetary defense technology demonstration in action as it was live streamed by NASA online when the DART spacecraft intentionally collided with its target asteroid.
Scientists worldwide monitored the aftermath through telescopes and radar facilities to assess the impact on Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos. Pre-impact projections estimated a range of possible deflections, and the postimpact observations revealed a significant deflection of the target asteroid at the high-end of the pre-impact models, a promising result for applying the technique in the future if needed.
Images captured by DART’s onboard Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation(DRACO) and the Italian Space Agency’s ride-along Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids(LICIACube), complemented by observations from ground-based telescopes as well as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope and the Lucy spacecraft, provided critical data. These observations allowed scientists to analyze Dimorphos’ surface composition, the material ejection velocity and quantity due to the collision, and the distribution of particle sizes within the ensuing dust cloud. Scientists on the mission confirmed in four subsequent papers published in Nature the effectiveness of the kinetic impactor technique in altering asteroid trajectories, making it a groundbreaking milestone for planetary defense. Look back at all of DART’s milestones and science successes in the year since impact.
More information about the Michael Collins Trophy and a complete list of past winners is available. The DART team will accept the award on March 21, 2024, at the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
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3 Min Read New Software Enables Atmospheric Modeling with Greater Resolution
Randall Martin / Washington University PROJECT
High Performance GEOS-Chem
An ESTO investment in software optimization helps researchers and citizen scientists model air quality and greenhouse gases with greater resolution, allowing them to better understand how global atmospheric trends impact local areas.
A data visualization describing atmospheric NO2 concentrations, produced using High Performance GEOS-Chem Image credit: Randall Martin / Washington University Next-generation software is making it easier for researchers, policy makers, and citizen scientists to model air quality and greenhouse gases using NASA meteorological data.
This novel software, “High Performance GEOS-Chem,” uses equations representing the Earth’s atmospheric chemistry and boundary conditions from NASA’s Goddard Earth Observation System (GEOS) to represent global atmospheric chemistry across three dimensions at a horizontal spatial resolution of 12 kilometers by 12 kilometers per pixel—an area about one-fifth the size of New York City.
For comparison, the original GEOS-Chem model that was developed in 2001 only produced global simulations at a spatial resolution of about 200 by 250 square kilometers – an area about twice as large as the entire state of New Jersey.
With this improved resolution, researchers interested in air quality and atmospheric chemistry in specific communities can use models, simulations, and visualizations built with NASA data to better understand how global atmospheric trends impact local areas.
GEOS-Chem is an open-source model freely accessible here. More information about High Performance Geos-Chem – including manuals and tutorials – can be found here.
“This new generation of High Performance GEOS-Chem offers major advancements for ease of use, computational performance, versatility, resolution, and accuracy,” said Randall Martin, a professor at Washington University’s McKelvey School of Engineering and Primary Investigator for the High Performance GEOS-Chem project.
In a recent technical demonstration of their improved GEOS-Chem software, Martin and his team showed two images mapping tropospheric nitrogen dioxide – a pollutant typically produced by burning fossil fuels.
The image produced with High Performance GEOS-Chem featured 200 million more grid cells than the image produced with the original GEOS-Chem software. In other words, High Performance GEOS-Chem creates images more resolute by a factor of about 200.
“We’re really excited. Many features can be examined that aren’t resolved at all at the coarser resolution,” said Martin.
For researchers interested in global air quality and atmospheric composition with local resolution, this new generation of the High Performance GEOS-Chem marks the beginning of a new era for creating descriptive models.
Two visualizations using the same data generated by High Performance GEOS-Chem (top) and the original GEOS-Chem software (bottom). High Performance GEOS-Chem created an image more resolute than the original GEOS-Chem software by a factor of 200. (Image credit: Randall Martin / Washington University) Martin and his team added a number of technological innovations to High Performance GEOS-Chem. In particular, they incorporated a cubed-sphere computation grid into their GEOS-Chem software, reducing noise at the poles and allowing for higher resolution.
High Performance GEOS-Chem also includes a cloud computing capability. This spreads the resource-intensive computation work of generating detailed atmospheric models across dispersed computing nodes, such as Amazon Web Services.
Martin and his team pride themselves on ensuring GEOS-Chem remains an open and accessible tool for anyone interested in simulating atmospheric composition. Their website includes a full suite of tutorial videos, manuals, and guides for using GEOS-Chem effectively.
“NASA enabled us to develop this new generation of GEOS-Chem that has both the additional technical performance and offers the ease of use that this large community requires,” said Martin.
Future iterations of GEOS-Chem could feature further improvements. Developing a better user interface and increasing the modularity of GEOS-Chem are just a few objectives Martin and his team have in mind.
NASA’s Advanced Information Systems Technology (AIST), a part of NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO), funded this program.
Randall Martin, Washington University in St. Louis
Earth Science Division’s Advanced Information Systems Technology (AIST) Program
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