Europlanet Science Congress 2022
Palacio de Congresos de Granada, Spain
18 – 23 September 2022
Europlanet Science Congress 2022
Palacio de Congresos de Granada, Spain
18 September – 23 September 2022
EPSC Abstracts
Vol. 16, EPSC2022-897, 2022, updated on 23 Sep 2022
Europlanet Science Congress 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

DIDYMOS AT DIFFERENT ROTATIONAL PHASES: a subtle but persistent spectral variability

Simone Ieva1, Elena Mazzotta Epifani1, Davide Perna1, Massimo Dall'Ora2, Vasiliki Petropoulou1, Jasinghege Don Prasanna Deshapriya1, Pedro Hasselmann1, Alessandro Rossi3, Giovanni Poggiali4,5, John Robert Brucato4, Maurizio Pajola6, Alice Lucchetti6, Stavro Lambro Ivanovski7, Pasquale Palumbo8,9, Vincenzo Della Corte9, Angelo Zinzi10,11, Elisabetta Dotto1, Andrew Rivkin12, Cristina Thomas13, Julia DeLeon14,15, and the LICIACube team*
Simone Ieva et al.
  • 1INAF - Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma, Monte Porzio Catone (RM), Italy (
  • 2INAF-OACN, Napoli
  • 3IFAC-CNR, Firenze
  • 4INAF-OAA, Arcetri
  • 5LESIA-Observatoire de Paris-PSL, CNRS, Université de Paris, Sorbonne, Meudon
  • 6INAF-OAPd, Padova
  • 7INAF-OATs, Trieste
  • 8Università Parthenope, Napoli
  • 9INAF-IAPS, Roma
  • 10ASI, Roma
  • 11SSDC-ASI, Roma
  • 12JHU-APL, Laurel, MD, USA
  • 13NAU, Flagstaff, AZ
  • 14IAC, Canary islands, Spain
  • 15ULL, Canary islands, Spain
  • *A full list of authors appears at the end of the abstract

Introduction: Near-Earth objects (NEOs), due to their proximity to our planet, represent one of the most accessible bodies in the whole Solar System. Their investigation can offer answers to several pressing questions in modern planetology (regarding, e.g., planetary formation, delivery of water and organics to the early Earth, and emergence of life). However, NEOs can also represent a risk for human civilization, since few of them can be potential impactors [1].

The binary Didymos system: The binary NEO Didymos is composed of a main body (68503) Didymos and its satellite, later renamed Dimorphos. Recent studies estimate that nearly 15% of large NEOs (> 200 m) should be binaries [2]. At the moment, the most current explanation involves the reaccumulation of a body following a rotational disruption, probably as a result of the Yarkovsky-O'Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effect. However, other mechanisms are predicted for different sizes and populations of small bodies (capture, collision and tidal processes) [3].

Binary NEOs can also be helpful to demonstrate the applicability of the most mature technique for impact mitigation, i.e. the kinetic impactor [4]. To this purpose, the NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) has been approved to be the first demonstration of an hazard mitigation of an asteroid by using a kinetic impactor [5].

The DART/LICIACube mission: The DART spacecraft, launched on November 23rd 2021, will impact Dimorphos, the smaller member of the Didymos binary asteroid system, on September 26th 2022. Hosted as a piggyback during the 15 months of DART interplanetary cruise there will also be LICIACube, the Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids [6], which is a 6U cubesat space mission supported by the Italian Space Agency (ASI). LICIACube will be released in the proximity of the target and will perform an autonomous fly-by of the Didymos system, probing the DART impact and reaching several scientific goals, such as: i) witness with its optical payloads (LUKE & LEIA, [6]) the impact of DART, ii) study the structure and evolution of the ejecta plume, and iii) acquire images of the event’s aftermath on the impacted hemisphere, as well as characterizing the non-impacted one.

Ground-based characterization of the Didymos system prior to the impact: Data available in literature for the target of the DART/LICIACube mission, the binary NEO 65803 Didymos, is scarce. Only few spectra were taken during the latest observational windows in 2003 and 2019. The limited compositional data available for this NEO suggests a possible silicate composition [7], and an affinity with its best meteorite analogue, the L- and LL-ordinary chondrites [8]. A detailed spectral characterization in this case is crucial due to its binary nature, in order to disentangle the contribution of the primary from the secondary body and asses the heterogeneity of the surface composition in the light of the DART/LICIACube mission.

A potential heterogeneity on Didymos: During the latest observational window in 2021 (the last before the DART impact) we obtained for the first time a complete rotational characterization of the system via visible spectroscopy. While the observations confirm an affinity with silicate material and ordinary chondrites, data analysis shows a subtle but persistent spectral slope variation, computed in this case between 0.5 and 0.7 µm. This slope variation is also confirmed by comparing our most recent data with spectra obtained during the previous 2003 and 2019 passages (see Fig. 1).

Figure 1 – Comparison between a representative set of spectra collected during our observations in 2021, together with previously observed spectra of the Didymos system retrieved in literature. a) Spectrum #1 together with the one observed by J. De Leon in 2019 in red (private communication); b) Spectrum #5 together with one from [9] in green; right) spectrum #8 with one retrieved by [7] in cyan. Published originally in [10].

Figure 2 – Comparison between three representative Didymos spectra observed at TNG during the 2021 observational window with their best meteorite analogue. Best analogue is represented by either L-, LL-ordinary chondrites or pure olivine and hypersthene spectra, the main components of L-/LL ordinary chondrites, suggesting that variability is probably related with different concentration of these minerals. Published originally in [10].

Future work: New spectral characterization already scheduled for 2022 in the unexplored NIR range will be helpful to confirm these promising results. We will compare this new data with RGB-images obtained by LUKE camera on board of LICIACube, to look for potential heterogeneity of the surface. Moreover, we will take advantage of the unprecedented brightness of the system during the 2022 observational window (brighter than the last two decades, Vmag = 14.5) to further investigate the contribution of Dimorphos, constrain potential similarity/difference with respect to Didiymos, and assess eventual mineralogical changes induced to the system by DART impact. These observations will be the ideal benchmark also in light of the Hera mission [12], which will visit the system in 2026.


Acknowledgments: This research was supported by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) within the LICIACube project (ASI-INAF agreement AC n. 2019-31-HH.0).

References: [1] Perna D., et al., 2013, A&A Rev. 21, 65; [2] Margot, J. L et al. 2015, Ast. IV, 355; [3] Walsh, K. J. & Jacobson, S. A., Ast. IV, 454; [4] Cheng, A. F. et al. 2018, P&SS,157,104; [5] Rivkin A.S. et al., (2021) [6] Dotto E. et al., 2021, PSS, 199, 105185; [7] De Leon J., et al., 2010, A&A 517, A23; [8] Dunn, T. L., et al., 2013, Icarus, 222, 273; [9] Binzel, R.P. et al., 2004, Icarus, 170, 25; [10] Ieva, S. et al., 2022, PSJ, submitted. [11] Michel, P. et al., 2022, PSJ, submitted.


LICIACube team:

M. Amoroso, I. Bertini, A. Capannolo, B. Cotugno, G. Cremonese, V. Di Tana, I. Gai, G. Impresario, M. Lavagna, A. Meneghin, F. Miglioretti, D. Modenini, S. Pirrotta, E. Simioni, S. Simonetti, P. Tortora, M. Zannoni and G. Zanotti

How to cite: Ieva, S., Mazzotta Epifani, E., Perna, D., Dall'Ora, M., Petropoulou, V., Prasanna Deshapriya, J. D., Hasselmann, P., Rossi, A., Poggiali, G., Brucato, J. R., Pajola, M., Lucchetti, A., Ivanovski, S. L., Palumbo, P., Della Corte, V., Zinzi, A., Dotto, E., Rivkin, A., Thomas, C., and DeLeon, J. and the LICIACube team: DIDYMOS AT DIFFERENT ROTATIONAL PHASES: a subtle but persistent spectral variability, Europlanet Science Congress 2022, Granada, Spain, 18–23 Sep 2022, EPSC2022-897,, 2022.


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