A significant amount of computer power is needed to run the 3D impact simulations. Caldwell’s code is parallel and can run on up to 3,600 processors at a time. It can take days of run time on those processors for simulations to complete.

“It's a heavy lift, and not something that can be achieved on a laptop or even smaller supercomputers. Our LANLLos Alamos National Laboratory computers can run calculations on the order of 40 petaflops — that's 40 million billion floating point operations per second,” Caldwell said. “And people like me still whine about it not being fast enough.”

Analysis of data obtained over the past two weeks by NASA’s DART investigation team shows the spacecraft's kinetic impact with its target asteroid, Dimorphos, successfully altered the asteroid’s orbit. The new data provide some interesting information about both asteroid properties and the effectiveness of a kinetic impactor as a planetary defense technology.

“These data are going to allow us to validate our modeling techniques against impacts into space rocks big enough to pose a threat to life on Earth,” Caldwell said. “We don't have a lab for these experiments, so getting to actually do it in space was really cool.”

The DART team is a diverse group of scientists coming from a wide array of backgrounds. Caldwell explains what a scientist in 2022 might look like.

“A scientist looks like whoever is reading this. We are all born scientists — it is why kids ask ‘why?’ all the time. It is our nature to want to understand the world around us.

“Scientists are normal people. I have tattoos and piercings, usually dye my hair weird colors, dance, direct plays and perform in a local cabaret. And I'm still a scientist. Yes, I like to stay home and read books sometimes, but I also stood in line at Disney to meet Elsa and Anna.

“The thing is, you probably won't know if you see a scientist, because, contrary to how we are portrayed in popular culture, we don't stand out. Some of my colleagues wear suits every day. Some wear shorts and flip-flops. One of the greatest things about my job is that it doesn't matter at all how I look — it matters that I do good science.”

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences