Hubble and JWST both saw the aftermath of NASA’s DART asteroid mission

After NASA’s DART mission slammed into the asteroid Dimorphos, the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope took simultaneous pictures of what was left behind

Space 29 September 2022

For the first time, NASA?s James Webb Space Telescope and Hubble Space Telescope have taken simultaneous observations of the same target. These images, Hubble on left and Webb on the right, show observations of the Didymos-Dimorphos system several hours after NASA?s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) intentionally impacted the moonlet asteroid. It was the world?s first test of the kinetic impact technique using a spacecraft to deflect an asteroid by modifying its orbit. Both Webb and Hubble observed the asteroid before and after the collision took place. Scientists will use the combined observations from Hubble and Webb to gain knowledge about the nature of the surface of Dimorphos, how much material was ejected by the collision, how fast it was ejected, and the distribution of particle sizes in the expanding dust cloud. In the coming months, scientists will also use Webb?s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) and Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) to observe ejecta from Dimorphos further. Spectroscopic data will provide researchers with insight into the asteroid?s composition. Hubble will monitor Dimorphos ten more times over the next three weeks to monitor how the ejecta cloud expands and fades over time. Hubble observations were conducted in one filter, WFC3/UVIS F350LP (assigned the color blue), while Webb observed at F070W (0.7 microns, assigned the color red).

The Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope both caught the aftermath of the DART mission

Joseph DePasquale, Alyssa Pagan/Space Telescope Science Institute

The two most powerful telescopes in service have both taken images of the same small asteroid. The Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) simultaneously snapped the asteroid Dimorphos in the aftermath of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART).

The DART spacecraft slammed into Dimorphos on 26 September in an attempt to change its orbit around the larger asteroid Didymos. The collision created huge plumes of dust and debris, and both Hubble and JWST observed Dimorphos before and after the crash.

The aim of the DART mission is to test whether we would be able to use a similar spacecraft to deflect an asteroid were it headed towards Earth – Dimorphos is completely harmless, making it a good test subject. To figure out how the test went, researchers will analyse how much Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos changed, as well as the material properties of the asteroid.

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These images from Hubble and JWST will help scientists determine what Dimorphos is made of, how much of it was destroyed in the collision and blasted off into space, and how fast that material hurtled away. This will help us understand the best way to push a dangerous asteroid off course.

This is the first time the two enormous orbiting telescopes have looked at the same object simultaneously. Both will continue to monitor Dimorphos over the coming weeks and months to track the expanding cloud of debris and examine the fresh surface of the asteroid beneath now that all that dust has been blasted away.

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