UNITED STATES: This week, NASA successfully crashed its DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft into the Dimorphos asteroid, roughly seven million miles distant, making history in the process.
While NASA released some photographs of the impact’s close-ups, it also used the James Webb and Hubble space telescopes to examine the planetary defence test from a distance.
The photographs aren’t very remarkable at first glance compared to what we’ve seen from either telescope, but they could provide a wealth of useful information.
For the first time, Hubble and JSWT simultaneously observed the same astronomical target. NASA believes the information collected from these two telescopes will aid in the understanding of the development and composition of the solar system.
The data will allow them to learn more about the surface of Dimorphos, as well as how much material was expelled when DART collided with it and at what speed it was moving.
Hubble and JWST observed light at various wavelengths (infrared and visible, respectively). According to NASA, having access to data from various wavelengths will enable researchers to determine whether or not large pieces of debris actually departed Dimorphos’ surface or if it was largely fine dust.
This is a crucial component of the test because the information can enable scientists to determine whether impacting an asteroid with a spacecraft can alter its orbit. The end goal is to create a mechanism that can direct incoming asteroids away from Earth.
Ten images acquired over five hours by JWST revealed, in the words of NASA, “a tight, compact core, with plumes of material appearing as wisps streaming away from the centre of where the collision took place.”
JWST will keep gathering spectroscopic data from the asteroid system in the upcoming months to aid researchers in understanding the chemical makeup of Dimorphos. A timelapse GIF of the pictures the JWST took was released by NASA.
However, according to their early observations, the brightness of the asteroid system tripled following the impact. For at least eight hours, that brilliance remained constant.
45 photos were taken by Hubble before and after DART’s impact. Over the coming days and weeks, it will continue to observe the asteroid system ten more times.
DART, which is about the size of a vending machine, took 10 months to get to Dimorphos. When DART collided with the asteroid the size of a football stadium, it was around 6.8 million miles from Earth. It takes a lot of effort to carry out an experiment like that.
The knowledge that scientists receive from the test could be extremely helpful.