New Asteroid Strike Images Show Impact Much Bigger Than Expected

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The James Webb and Hubble telescopes on Thursday captured their first images of a spacecraft intentionally smashing into an asteroid, as astronomers indicated the impact was much greater than expected.

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The world’s telescopes turned to the space rock Dimorphos earlier this week for a historic test of Earth’s ability to defend itself against a future potentially life-threatening asteroid.

Astronomers rejoiced as the impactor of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) slammed into a pyramid-shaped, rugby ball-shaped target 11 million kilometers (6.8 million miles) from Earth on Monday night.


Images taken by Earth-bound telescopes show a giant cloud of dust spreading from Dimorphos – and its big brother Didymos, which orbited it after the spacecraft hit it.

While those images showed truncations spanning more than thousands of kilometers, James Webb and Hubble’s images “zoom in very close,” said Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast involved in the observations with the ATLAS project.

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James Webb and Hubble “can offer a view within just a few kilometers of the asteroids and you can see really clearly how the material is being blown away by that explosive impact by the dart,” Fitzsimmons told AFP.

“It’s actually quite spectacular,” he said.

This handout image, released by the European Space Agency on September 29, 2022, is an image from the Webb telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera, about four hours after the impact of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), an asteroid moon, Showing dimorphos.

According to a joint statement from the European Space Agency, James, an image taken four hours after the impact by James Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) “is visible as material streaming away from the center of where the impact occurred.” stack”. Webb and Hubble.

Hubble images 22 minutes, five hours and eight hours after the impact show a rising spray of matter from where the dart struck.

‘There was nothing left to worry’

Ian Carnelli of the European Space Agency (ESA) said the “really impressive” Webb and Hubble images were remarkably similar to images taken by the toaster-sized satellite LICIACube, which came only 50 miles from the asteroid after separating from the Dart spacecraft. kilometers away. few weeks ago.

“The images show an impact that looks “much larger than we expected,” said Cornelli, manager of ESA’s Hera mission, which intends to observe the damage over four years.

“I was really worried that Dimorphos had nothing left”, Carnelli told AFP.

The HERA mission, which is scheduled to launch in October 2024 and arrive at the asteroid in 2026, was expected to survey a crater approximately 10 meters (33 ft) in diameter.

Now it looks like it will be huge, Cornelli said, “if there is a crater, maybe a piece of Dimorphos had just broken off.”

The true measure of Dart’s success will be how much it diverted the asteroid’s trajectory, so the world can begin preparing to defend itself against larger asteroids that could come our way in the future.

It will take at least a week for Earth-bound telescopes and radars to estimate how much the asteroid’s orbit has changed, and three or four weeks before accurate measurements can be made, Carnelli said.

‘huge implications’

“I’m expecting a much bigger deflection than I thought,” he said.

“This will have a huge impact in planetary defense because it means this technology can be used for very large asteroids,” said Carnelli.

“Until today, we thought that would be the only deflection technology to send a nuclear device.”

Fitzsimmons said that even if no material “trapped” the dimorphos, DART may have slightly affected its orbit.

“But the more material and the faster it is moving, the greater the deflection will be,” he said.

James Webb and Hubble’s observations will help determine how much – and how quickly – matter was sprayed from the asteroid, as well as the nature of its surface.

The asteroid impact marked the first time two space telescopes saw the same celestial body.

Since launching in December and releasing its first images in July, James Webb has taken the title of most powerful space telescope from Hubble.

Fitzsimmons said the picture was “a beautiful display of the additional science you can get using more than one telescope at the same time.”


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