NASA wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to see its historic asteroid collision through the eyes of its most powerful space observatories.
NASA and the European Space Agency published new Hubble and James Webb space telescope photographs depicting the moment the DART probe impacted with the tiny asteroid Dimorphos on Thursday.
DART was created as humanity’s first experiment in kinetic impact mitigation, which is a long way of saying the purpose was to smash a spacecraft into an asteroid to test if the collision might change the space rock’s orbit. The method might one day be employed to safeguard Earth from an asteroid or comet that threatens to collide with it.
Neither Dimorphos nor Didymos, the larger asteroid that the moonlet orbits represent a threat to humankind. At the time, no known asteroids pose a substantial threat.
The effort to record the moment of impact, as well as earlier and follow-up photos of the crash site, represents the first time Webb and Hubble have seen the same target at the same time.
“This is an unprecedented view of an unprecedented event,” Andy Rivkin, DART investigation team lead, said in a statement.
Hubble captured the photographs in visible light, while Webb used infrared equipment to reveal the collision. The bright center of the pictures depicts the location of impact, which remained bright for several hours. Plumes of material ejected from the asteroid’s surface by the collision are also visible.
“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, who led the Hubble observations.