New Hubble and Webb images capture aftermath of DART asteroid crash


Hubble and Webb images showing the immediate effects of the DART experiment in deflecting an asteroid.

Hubble and Webb images showing the immediate effects of the DART experiment in deflecting an asteroid.
Image: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

Fresh pictures from two famous space telescopes shed new light on NASA’s DART mission to deflect a harmless asteroid.

The NASA spacecraft intentionally crushed in Dimorphos on the evening of September 26 after a 10-month journey through the binary asteroid system. Dimorphos, a moon the size of a football stadium, and its larger companion, Didymos, lie about 11 kilometers from Earth. The pair pose no threat to Earth, but the double asteroid redirect test could lead to a planetary defense system against dangerous near-Earth objects.

NASA’s first attempt to push an asteroid off its usual orbital path was captured by the DART spacecraft itselfhis companion spaceship, LICIACubeand various ground observatories on earth. And like promisedthe celestial crash was also observed by the Hubble and Webb space telescopes, the first images of which were published today.

The recently order The Webb Space Telescope captured an image of the Didymos-Dimorphos system before the collision and several in the hours afterward the event. In total, Webb completed five hours of observations, capturing 10 pictures. Astronomer Heidi Hammel of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy led the observing session.

Webb's view of the Didymos-Dimorphos system approximately four hours after DART impact.

Webb’s view of the Didymos-Dimorphos system approximately four hours after DART impact.
Image: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

Webb is stationed at Lagrange’s second Sun-Earth point, placing it about 9.7 million kilometers from Didymos. Astronomers have used the Near infrared camera (NIRCam) raised to 10 billion dollars telescope to perform DART observations. The resulting images “show a tight, compact core, with plumes of material appearing as streaks moving away from the center of where the impact took place,” according to a European space agency. Press release.

The team pushed the boundaries of the new observatory. It took weeks of planning to properly track the binary asteroid system, as Webb needed to move three times faster than his predicted limit, according to the press release. Webb’s Mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) and Near infrared spectrograph (NIRSpec) will continue to monitor the Didymos-Dimorphos system in the coming months.

The Hubble Space Telescope, in low Earth orbit since 1990, also took before and after photos of the binary asteroid system. Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 captured 45 viewable imageslight footage from the test, capturing its first post-impact view about 15 minutes after the fatal DART collision.

Hubble images taken 22 minutes, 5 hours and 8.2 hours after impact.

Hubble images taken 22 minutes, 5 hours and 8.2 hours after impact.
Image: NASA, ESA and STScI

The recently released Hubble image shows lots of surface material emanating from Dimorphos, with rays extending from its body. Some of the rays have a slight curve, which astronomers will need to study and explain. Fascinatingly, the luminosity of the Didymos-Dimorphos system tripled after impact, and this luminosity remained stable for eight hours. Again, this is something astronomers will have to explain.

Hubble will make 10 more observations of the system over the next three weeks. “These regular and relatively long-term observations as the ejecta cloud expands and fades over time will paint a more complete picture of the cloud’s expansion from ejection to disappearance,” said the ESA. statement indicated.

As hoped, Hubble and Webb rose to the occasion, capturing evidence of the impact from incredibly vast distances. The data obtained will shed light on the composition and volume of Dimorphos and the potential degree to which the DART experiment moved the asteroid. Scientists will then use this information to develop a planetary defense strategy to protect Earth from legitimately dangerous asteroids.

After: The most intriguing images from DART’s fatal encounter with an asteroid.

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