Home / Science / News /  Here's how NASA's eyes James Webb and Hubble telescopes saw the DART collision

NASA's latest Armageddon style mission to create a defence system against asteroids is the talk of the town among space enthusiasts. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART has crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid in an attempt to divert the celestial body of its trajectory and avoid striking Earth.

Apart from the images taken by the CubeSat LICIACube which was part of the payload on the mission, two of NASA's great observatories and our sharpest eyes in space have sent images of the mission the way they saw the collision.

DART mission's successful conclusion represents the first significant step toward the creation of a workable planetary defence system against rogue asteroids. Asteroid Didymos' moonlet Dimorhpos was struck by the DART mission in order to test a novel method of deflecting asteroids through kinetic impact.

The James Webb Telescope managed to capture a unique glow from the event, which is still being studied by scientists along with the changes Dimorphos has undergone since it was struck by a spacecraft sent from Earth. Together with its venerable companion Hubble, the most potent observatory in the world had trained its lenses on the event.

Images from the event, returned by Hubble and James Webb, showed that the brightness of the system increased by three times after impact and remained constant for eight hours.

Principal investigator Cristina Thomas of Northern Arizona University, said in a statement, “I have nothing but tremendous admiration for the Webb Mission Operations folks that made this a reality. We have been planning these observations for years, then in detail for weeks, and I’m tremendously happy this has come to fruition."

WHAT JAMES WEBB TELESCOPE SAW?

This animation, a timelapse of images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, covers the time spanning just before impact at 7:14 p.m. EDT, Sept. 26, through 5 hours post-impact. Plumes of material from a compact core appear as wisps streaming away from where the impact took place. An area of rapid, extreme brightening is also visible in the animation.
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This animation, a timelapse of images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, covers the time spanning just before impact at 7:14 p.m. EDT, Sept. 26, through 5 hours post-impact. Plumes of material from a compact core appear as wisps streaming away from where the impact took place. An area of rapid, extreme brightening is also visible in the animation. (Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, Cristina Thomas (Northern Arizona University), Ian Wong (NASA-GSFC); Joseph DePasquale (STScI))

A time-lapse of images covering the period from just before impact to five hours after impact has been made public by NASA. The animation displays material plumes emerging from a compact core that look like wisps streaming away from the impact site.

The animation also shows a region of abrupt, intense brightening. Over the course of five hours, Webb observed the effect and took ten pictures. In order to enable and test a method of tracking asteroids moving more than three times faster than the initial speed limit set for Webb,

Webb's team had to put in extra effort in the weeks before the impact in order to be able to capture the event.

WHAT HUBBLE TELESCOPE SAW?

This animated GIF combines three of the images NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured after NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) intentionally impacted Dimorphos, a moonlet asteroid in the double asteroid system of Didymos. The animation spans from 22 minutes after impact to 8.2 hours after the collision took place. As a result of the impact, the brightness of the Didymos-Dimorphos system increased by 3 times. The brightness also appears to hold fairly steady, even eight hours after impact.
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This animated GIF combines three of the images NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured after NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) intentionally impacted Dimorphos, a moonlet asteroid in the double asteroid system of Didymos. The animation spans from 22 minutes after impact to 8.2 hours after the collision took place. As a result of the impact, the brightness of the Didymos-Dimorphos system increased by 3 times. The brightness also appears to hold fairly steady, even eight hours after impact. (Science: NASA, ESA, Jian-Yang Li (PSI); animation: Alyssa Pagan (STScI))

Before the impact, the Hubble Telescope was already monitoring the asteroid and the spacecraft, and it continued to monitor the moonlet after the impact. In the moments leading up to and immediately after DART's collision with Dimorphos, the spacecraft took 45 pictures.

Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 captured images of the impact in visible light, with plumes appearing as rays extending from the asteroid's body.

Astronomers are intrigued by some of the rays that appear to be slightly curved, according to NASA. Over the next three weeks, the flying observatory will observe the Didymos-Dimorphos system ten more times to better understand the ejecta that is expanding outward.

Sharinh his observation about the images acquired by the Hubble telescope, Jian-Yang Li of the Planetary Science Institute said, “When I saw the data, I was literally speechless, stunned by the amazing detail of the ejecta that Hubble captured. I feel lucky to witness this moment and be part of the team that made this happen."

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