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Images from the DART probe of the James-Webb and Hubble telescopes after the collision

The James-Webb and Hubble telescopes reveal their images of the crash of the DART spacecraft on the asteroid Dimorphos.

An asteroid located 11 million kilometers away hit by the DART spacecraft of the NASA. This is indeed an event that could requisition points for two of the most famous telescopes, James-Webb and Hubble. A few days ago, the two devices unveiled the images they were able to take of this historic collision.

The James-Webb and Hubble telescopes unveil their images

It was Monday evening that NASA’s DART spacecraft crashed on the surface of Dimorphos, a small moon 160 meters in diameter which evolves around a larger asteroid, in an attempt to deflect its orbit. We will only know in a few weeks if its trajectory has indeed been altered, and therefore if the mission has been a total success, but the event is already very impressive.

Soon after the collision, the first images showed a vast cloud – several thousand kilometers – of dust around Dimorphos. It was on this cloud that the James-Webb and Hubble telescopes were able to “zoom in more finely”, explained Alan Fitzsimmons, astronomer at Queen’s University in Belfast, involved in ground observations for the ATLAS project, a network of four telescopes operated from Hawaii. These images make it possible to visualize “clearly how this material is shattered after the explosive impact of Dart, it is quite spectacular”.

Photograph produced by the onboard nano-satellite LICIACube showing the collision of the DART probe with the asteroid Dimorphos on September 26, 2022.(AFP PHOTO / ASI/NASA)

of the crash of the DART ship on the asteroid Dimorphos

Ian Carnelli, head of the European Hera mission which will inspect the damage to the surface of Dimorphos in four years, specifies that “the impact seems much greater than expected”. The mission predicted a crater about 10 meters in diameter. This one would be much more important: “if crater there is, because maybe an entire piece of Dimorphos was simply torn off.”

The most impressive images are probably those of the James-Webb’s NIRCam camera, working in the near infrared. These shots reveal a compact core with “plumes of material”, very similar to expanding filaments, “moving away from the center of where the impact took place”, according to an ESA statement, Webb and Hubble.

Image of the asteroid Dimorphos provided on September 29, 2022 by the European Space Agency (ESA) showing the asteroid Dimorphos, captured by the James-Webb's NIRCam camera, several hours after the collision with the DART probe.

Image of the asteroid Dimorphos provided on September 29, 2022 by the European Space Agency (ESA) showing the asteroid Dimorphos, captured by the James-Webb’s NIRCam camera, several hours after the collision with the DART probe.(ESA/WEBB/AFP)

Hubble, with its wide-angle camera, took images 22 minutes, 5 hours and 8 hours after the crash. We clearly see the movement of the ejecta, which appear in the form of rays, with a luminosity which gradually increases, but which seems to have stabilized eight hours after the impact. This “intrigues astronomers”, by the way.

The images from these two telescopes will make it possible in particular to assess the quantity of material that has been ejected, its nature and its speed. Which will help scientists “understand how effectively a kinetic impact can alter an asteroid’s orbit.” The more material ejected, the greater the chances of altering the trajectory.

Combinations of images provided by ESA on September 29, 2022 captured by the Hubble telescope 22 minutes, 5 hours and 8.2 hours after the collision between the DART probe and the asteroid Dimorphos.

Combinations of images provided by ESA on September 29, 2022 captured by the Hubble telescope 22 minutes, 5 hours and 8.2 hours after the collision between the DART probe and the asteroid Dimorphos.(AFP PHOTO/ESA/WEBB)