Two telescopes – James Webb and Hubble – captured the moment when the NASA probe hits the asteroid Dimporphos to change its trajectory. Thanks to the images, scientists have the chance to learn more about the chemical composition of the object.
NASA probe it collided with Dimorphos on Tuesday – the moon of an asteroid Didymos – as part of the DART mission. This was the first ever – and successful – planetary defense test. As part of the trial, the engineers wanted to see how much a hitting a small celestial body could change its course.
Two powerful devices NASA – The James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope aimed their lenses at Dimorphos and captured a historic moment. This is the first time that both telescopes have seen the same target in the sky simultaneously.
The coordinated operation of Hubble and Webb is more than just an operational milestone for each telescope. By joining forces, there is a chance to solve questions about the appearance and history of the solar system.
“Webb and Hubble prove what we’ve always believed: we learn more when we work together,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. – For the first time, Webb and Hubble simultaneously captured images for the same purpose in outer space: an asteroid that has been hit by a spaceship. All of humanity is eagerly awaiting the discoveries to come from Webb, Hubble and our ground-based telescopes – for DART missions and beyond, ‘he added.
Through duplicate observations, scientists can gain insight into the nature of Dimorphos’ surface and how much material was ejected due to the collision. As both telescopes captured the collision at different wavelengths of light (Webb in infrared and Hubble in visible), scientists will learn the size of the particles ejected as a result of the impact.
“We have been planning these observations for years”
Webb took one photo before the impact, and then several photos over the next few hours. A total of 10 photos were taken. The images show a tight, compact nucleus from which streaks of material extend. These observations posed quite a challenge for the research team due to the speed of the asteroid in the sky. As the spacecraft approached the target, the teams took additional steps to enable and test a method of tracking asteroids that are moving more than three times faster than the established speed limits for Webb.
“I really admire the people at Webb Mission Operations who made it happen,” said lead researcher Cristina Thomas of the University of Northern Arizona. “We have planned these observations for years, then in great detail for weeks, and I am very happy that it happened,” she added.
Scientists are planning further observations in the coming months asteroids. The obtained data is intended to provide scientists with an insight into the chemical composition of celestial bodies.
“An unprecedented view of an unprecedented event”
Hubble recorded binary observations before impact and then for 15 minutes after impact. The photos show the material ejected as a result of the impact in the form of rays extending from the surface of the asteroid. Some of them appear slightly curved, but for now astronomers aren’t sure exactly what that means. Thanks to the Hubble images, astronomers estimated that the system’s brightness increased threefold after it collided with an asteroid. As they later reported, this state of affairs continued eight hours after the collision.
Hubble will continue to monitor the system in the coming weeks. The engineers want to look at it 10 more times and see how the material cloud expands and fades away over time.
“When I saw this data, I was speechless, stunned by the amazing detail of the spout that Hubble captured,” said Jian-Yang Li of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, who led the observations. “I’m happy to be able to witness this moment and part of the team that did it,” he added.
In total, Hubble took 45 images.
“This is an unprecedented sight of an unprecedented event,” concluded Andy Rivkin, head of the DART research team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
Main photo source: SCIENCE: NASA, ESA, CSA, Cristina Thomas (Northern Arizona University), Ian Wong (NASA-GSFC) IMAGE PROCESSING: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)