Skip to main content

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.

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
James Webb images capture the galactic winds of newborn stars
A team of astronomers used the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope to survey the starburst galaxy Messier 82 (M82), which is located 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. M82 hosts a frenzy of star formation, sprouting new stars 10 times faster than the Milky Way galaxy. Webb’s infrared capabilities enabled scientists to peer through curtains of dust and gas that have historically obscured the star formation process. This image from Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument shows the centre of M82 with an unprecedented level of detail. With Webb’s resolution, astronomers can distinguish small, bright compact sources that are either individual stars or star clusters. Obtaining an accurate count of the stars and clusters that compose M82’s centre can help astronomers understand the different phases of star formation and the timelines for each stage.

A stunning new pair of images from the James Webb Space Telescope show a new view of a familiar galaxy. Messier 82 is a famous starburst galaxy, full of bright and active star formation, and scientists are using Webb to study how stars are being born in the busy conditions at the center of the galaxy.

Astronomers used Webb's NIRCam instrument to observe the galaxy, and by splitting the resulting data into shorter and longer wavelengths, you can see different features which are picked out in the bustling, active region where stars are forming.

Read more
Hubble images the spooky Spider Galaxy
This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the irregular galaxy UGC 5829.

This week's image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows an irregular galaxy, the spindly arms and clawed shape of which has led to it being named the Spider Galaxy. Located 30 million light-years away, the galaxy also known as UGC 5829 is an irregular galaxy that lacks the clear, orderly arms seen in spiral galaxies like the Milky Way.

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the irregular galaxy UGC 5829. ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Tully, M. Messa

Read more
See planets being born in new images from the Very Large Telescope
This composite image shows the MWC 758 planet-forming disc, located about 500 light-years away in the Taurus region, as seen with two different facilities. The yellow colour represents infrared observations obtained with the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch (SPHERE) instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The blue regions on the other hand correspond to observations performed with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

Astronomers have used the Very Large Telescope to peer into the disks of matter from which exoplanets form, looking at more than 80 young stars to see which may have planets forming around them. This is the largest study to date on these planet-forming disks, which are often found within the same huge clouds of dust and gas that stars form within.

A total of 86 young stars were studied in three regions known to host star formation: Taurus and Chamaeleon I, each located around 600 light-years away, and Orion, a famous stellar nursery located around 1,600 light-years away. The researchers took images of the disks around the stars, looking at their structures for clues about how different types of planets can form.

Read more