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History was made on Monday evening when NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft successfully crashed into the asteroid Dimorphos.
DART’s camera shared spectacular images of the asteroid’s surface before it crashed.
Now new images captured by its companion, a cube satellite known as LICIACube, reveal what the impact looked like from another vantage point.
The Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids, provided by the Italian Space Agency, is about the size of a briefcase. It deployed from the DART spacecraft on September 11 and traveled behind it to record the event from a safe distance of about 34 miles (55 kilometers).
Three minutes after impact, the CubeSat flew over Dimorphos – which orbits a larger asteroid, Didymos – to capture images and video.
The series of images show shiny material released from the surface of Dimorphos after the collision. Didymos is in the foreground.
“Here are photos taken by @LICIACube of the world’s first planetary defense mission. This is exactly where the #NASA #DartMission ended. Incredible excitement, the start of new discoveries,” reads a tweet from Argotec Spacean Italian company that developed the CubeSat for the Italian Space Agency.
The surface of the egg-shaped asteroid, covered in boulders, resembled Bennu and Ryugu, two other asteroids visited by spacecraft in recent years. Scientists suspect that Dimorphos is a rubble-pile asteroid made up of loosely bound rocks.
The mission team is eager to learn more about the impact crater left by DART, which they estimate to be about 33 to 65 feet (10 to 20 meters) in size. There may even be broken pieces of the spacecraft in the crater.
The intentional collision, which took place about 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth, was humanity’s first asteroid deflection attempt.
INTERACTIVE: A spaceship’s journey to test Earth’s planetary defenses
Neither Dimorphos nor Didymos pose a threat to Earth. But analysis of the DART spacecraft’s ability to alter Dimorphos’ motion could inform techniques for protecting Earth should a space rock ever head into impact.
While it will take around two months for observations from ground-based telescopes to determine whether DART has succeeded in narrowing Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos ever so slightly, observatories including the Virtual Telescope Project in Rome are already sharing their point. view of the collision event.
Astronomers from the Les Makes observatory on the French island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean also shared a sequence of images showing the asteroid brightening upon impact, as well as a cloud of material that then broke free from its surface. The cloud drifted east and slowly dissipated, according to the European Space Agency.
Les Makes is a collaborating station that is part of ESA’s Planetary Defense Office and Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre.
A video of sightings shared by the observatory condenses around 30 minutes of footage into seconds.
“Something like this has never been done before, and we didn’t really know what to expect. It was an emotional moment for us when the images arrived,” Marco Micheli, an astronomer at ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center, said in a statement.
As astronomers around the world settle in to study their post-impact observations of the asteroid system, ESA’s Hera mission prepares for a future visit to Didymos and Dimorphos.
Hera will serve as a follow-up mission, launched in 2024.
“The DART results will prepare us for Hera’s visit to the Didymos binary system to examine the consequences of this impact in a few years time,” Hera mission manager Ian Carnelli said in a statement. “Hera will help us understand what happened to Dimorphos, the first celestial body to be measurably moved by mankind.”