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DART asteroid impact imaged by Webb and Hubble space telescopes

Earlier this week NASA successfully crashed its DART spacecraft into an asteroid around seven million miles from Earth.

The mission was a test to see if the force of such an impact can alter the course of an asteroid’s flight. If it can — and we’re waiting for the results to come in — then we can use the technology for planetary defense if we ever spot a hazardous asteroid heading straight for Earth.

A video stream from DART transmitted astonishingly clear images of the spacecraft’s final moments before crashing into the Dimorphos asteroid at 14,000 mph.

On Thursday, we learned that two of NASA’s most prominent space telescopes, Webb and Hubble, also had their cameras trained on the big event.

It turns out this was the first time Webb and Hubble were used to simultaneously observe the same celestial target, and both captured the moment of impact.

DART, you rocked out there. 🪨#ICYMI, Webb and @NASAHubble both captured the effects of #DARTMission colliding with an asteroid as a test of planetary defense. This is the first time both telescopes observed the same target at the same time:

— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) September 29, 2022

The Hubble team posted a short clip comprising three images showing a flash just after DART smashed into the space rock at high speed. NASA said the footage spans from 22 minutes after impact to just over eight hours after the collision occurred.

Check out Hubble’s “after” shots from #DARTMission impact!

Earlier this week, @NASA intentionally crashed a spacecraft into Dimorphos, a non-threatening asteroid moonlet in the double-asteroid system of Didymos, in a test of planetary defense:

— Hubble (@NASAHubble) September 29, 2022

The different colors in the images are down to Webb and Hubble capturing the impact in different wavelengths of light — Webb in infrared and Hubble in visible. The contrasting data, together with data from ground-based observatories, will help scientists understand how effectively an impact of this nature can alter an asteroid’s orbit, and also reveal more about the nature of the surface of Dimorphos and how the collision affected it.

“Webb and Hubble show what we’ve always known to be true at NASA: We learn more when we work together,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said on Thursday. “For the first time, Webb and Hubble have simultaneously captured imagery from the same target in the cosmos — an asteroid that was impacted by a spacecraft after a seven-million-mile journey. All of humanity eagerly awaits the discoveries to come from Webb, Hubble, and our ground-based telescopes, about the DART mission and beyond.”

NASA said that the coordinated Hubble and Webb observations are “more than just an operational milestone for each telescope,” explaining that combining the capabilities of the two space-based observatories will also help it to explore important science questions linked to the makeup and history of our solar system.

NASA’s Hubble telescope has been in orbit about 335 miles above Earth since 1990, sending back incredible imagery as part of its explorations. Webb, the most advanced space telescope ever built, launched at the end of last year and is now located around a million miles from Earth, where it’s also producing some magnificent work.

As it continues its groundbreaking studies of deep space, Webb will also keep an eye on Dimorphos with its Mid-Infrared Instrument and Near-Infrared Spectrograph technology in a bid to learn more about the chemical makeup of the asteroid.

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Trevor Mogg
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