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Webb, Hubble capture detailed views of DART impact

by Coffee Table Science

 The James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope, two of NASA’s Great Observatories, have taken images of a special NASA experiment intended to purposefully smash a spacecraft into a small asteroid in the first-ever in-space test for planetary defence.  

It was the first time the kinetic impact mitigation technology has ever been tested, which involves deploying a spaceship to divert an asteroid that doesn’t pose a threat to Earth and change its orbit. DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) is a test for protecting Earth from possible asteroids and comet threats.


Image credits: NASA

NASA and SpaceX’s DART is the first large-scale mission in the world to test technology for protecting Earth from prospective asteroids and comet threats. 


For the first time, a spacecraft that travelled seven million miles and then collided with an asteroid was imaged by both Webb and Hubble at the same time. The discoveries concerning the DART mission and beyond that will be made by Webb, Hubble, and our ground-based observatories are eagerly anticipated by all of mankind


Scientists will be able to learn more about the characteristics of Dimorphos’s surface, the amount of material ejected by the collision, and the speed at which it was ejected by combining observations from Webb and Hubble.

Webb Captures Impact Site Before and After Collision

Prior to the crash, Webb made one observation of the impact position. Then, over the course of the following few hours, it made further observations. Images from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera reveal a compact, tightly packed core, with material plumes appearing as wisps streaming away from the collision site.


Image credits: SciDechDaily

The teams put in further effort in the weeks before the impact to enable and test a means of tracking asteroids travelling more than three times faster than the initial speed limit set for Webb as DART approached its target.


In the upcoming months, scientists also intend to use Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph and Mid-Infrared Instrument to study the asteroid system. Researchers will learn more about the asteroid’s chemical makeup via spectroscopic data.

Hubble Images Show Movement of Ejecta After Impact

Additionally, Hubble recorded observations of the binary system 15 minutes before DART collided with Dimorphos’s surface and again 15 minutes thereafter. Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 captured images that demonstrate the impact in visible light. Ejecta from the impact is visible as beams extending from the asteroid’s body.


Image credits  : Hubble Space Telescope

Astronomers need to look more closely in order to interpret some of the beams’ apparent small curves. Astronomers also determined from the Hubble photos that the brightness of the system increased three times after impact and remained constant even eight hours later. Over the following three weeks, Hubble intends to check in on the Didymos-Dimorphos system ten more times.

“When I saw the data, I was literally speechless, stunned by the amazing detail of the ejecta that Hubble captured”, said Jian-Yang Li of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, who led the Hubble observations. “I feel lucky to witness this moment and be part of the team that made this happen”. 45 more photos were taken by Hubble before and after DART collided with Dimorphos.

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