LAUREL, Md. — The James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope have captured views of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test crashing into an asteroid Tuesday, NASA said Thursday. These observations of the DART impact mark the first time Webb and Hubble simultaneously observed the same celestial target.
It was the world’s first test of the kinetic impact mitigation technique, using a spacecraft to deflect an asteroid that poses no threat to Earth, and modifying the object’s orbit. DART is a test for defending Earth against potential asteroid or comet hazards.
“This is an unprecedented view of an unprecedented event,” said Andy Rivkin, DART investigation team lead of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.
The coordinated Hubble and Webb observations are more than just an operational milestone for each telescope – there are also key science questions relating to the makeup and history of our solar system that researchers can explore when combining the capabilities of these observatories.
“Webb and Hubble show what we’ve always known to be true at NASA: We learn more when we work together,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “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.”
Observations from Webb and Hubble will allow scientists to gain knowledge about the nature of the surface of Dimorphos, how much material was ejected by the collision, and how fast it was ejected.
Additionally, Webb and Hubble captured the impact in different wavelengths of light – Webb in infrared and Hubble in visible. Observing the impact across a wide array of wavelengths will reveal the distribution of particle sizes in the expanding dust cloud, helping to determine whether it threw off lots of big chunks or mostly fine dust.
Combining this information, along with ground-based telescope observations, will help scientists to understand how effectively a kinetic impact can modify an asteroid’s orbit.
“I have nothing but tremendous admiration for the Webb Mission Operations folks that made this a reality,” said principal investigator Cristina Thomas of Northern Arizona University. “We have been planning these observations for years, then in detail for weeks, and I’m tremendously happy this has come to fruition.”
Scientists also plan to observe the asteroid system in the coming months to gain insight into the asteroid’s chemical composition.