NASA releases photos of asteroid collisions

The images were captured simultaneously by two massive space telescopes

The US space agency has released a series of photos showing the aftermath of a “planetary defense” an experiment that aimed to knock an incoming asteroid off course, with giant plumes of material seen flying from the object after a deliberate collision with a spacecraft.

NASA released the images on Thursday, revealing the first results of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) conducted earlier this week, which the space agency considered the “The world’s first test of the Kinetic Impact Mitigation technique, using a spacecraft to deflect an asteroid.” The photos were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and the New James Webb Space Telescope, also marking the first time the two observatories have captured the same celestial body simultaneously.

“When I saw the data, I was literally speechless, stunned by the incredible detail of the ejecta captured by Hubble,” said Jian-Yang Li of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, who led the Hubble team’s observations, referring to plumes of material thrown up by the asteroid Dimorphos. “I feel lucky to witness this moment and be part of the team that made this possible.”

Dimorphos can be seen growing brighter in images captured 22 minutes, 5 hours and 8.2 hours after the DART impact, with huge clouds projecting from its surface appearing to glow pale blue in visible light.

Another series of timelapses from the James Webb Telescope show the asteroid just before the collision, as well as several hours after impact. A “rapid and extreme lightening zone” can be observed after DART hits its target, NASA said.

The space agency will continue to look at Dimorphos and its companion asteroid Didymos to determine the effects of the DART experiment, with researchers expected to monitor the binary asteroid system 10 more times over the next three weeks. NASA also plans to observe asteroids using the Webb Telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) and Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) to help understand the objects’ chemical makeup.


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