Earlier this week, NASA launched an unprecedented mission to test a response system that could be used in the event of an asteroid crossing paths with Earth. Now, they’ve released some stunning images from both the Hubble and Webb telescopes that captured the moment of impact.
The Dart mission was “the first human experiment to deflect a celestial body,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science. He also called it “an enormous success.”
Just a few hours after the successful mission, SpaceX joined NASA to confirm a new initiative to improve the Hubble telescope. With the backing of an anonymous billionaire, they’re hoping to raise the telescope’s orbit and extend its operating life. Meanwhile, the Webb telescope has been generating images that have revolutionized our observations of the universe around our planet.
Telescopes spread across seven continents watched as NASA’s Dart spacecraft slammed Monday into the harmless space rock. The impact occurred 7 million miles away from Earth in hopes of altering its orbit. Scientists won’t know the precise change of its orbit until November. But the results are expected to be optimistic.
“Webb and Hubble show what we’ve always known to be true at NASA. We learn more when we work together,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a NASA statement. “For the first time, Webb and Hubble have simultaneously captured imagery from the same target in the cosmos. An asteroid that was impacted by a spacecraft after a seven-million-mile journey. All of humanity eagerly awaits the discoveries to come from Webb, Hubble and our ground-based telescopes — about the DART mission and beyond.”
NASA Will Be Crunching the Data From Dart for Months to Come
The asteroid in question was nicknamed Dimorphos. The space rock took quite the punch that left it with a sizable crater. And the impact sent streams of rocks and debris hurtling into space. These trails of dirt were captured in the photos as bright rays of light reflecting in the vast emptiness of space.
Hubble and Webb will keep observing Dimorphos and its large companion Didymos over the next several weeks. The $325 million Dart mission was launched last year. The spacecraft was built and managed by Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
Observations from Webb and Hubble together will allow NASA to gain knowledge about the nature of Dimorphos. Such as how much material was ejected by the collision, and how fast it was ejected. Additionally, Webb and Hubble captured the impact in different wavelengths of light – Webb in infrared and Hubble in visible.
Observing the impact across a wide array of wavelengths will reveal the distribution of particle sizes in the expanding dust cloud. Helping to determine whether it threw off lots of big chunks or mostly fine dust. Combining this information with ground-based telescope observations will help scientists to understand how effectively a kinetic impact can modify an asteroid’s orbit.