STScI: Webb, Hubble Capture Detailed Views of DART Impact
Two of NASA’s Great Observatories, the James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope, have captured views of a unique NASA experiment designed to intentionally smash a spacecraft into a small asteroid in the world’s first-ever in-space test for planetary defense. These observations of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impact mark the first time that Webb and Hubble simultaneously observed the same celestial target.
On September 26, 2022 at 7:14 pm EDT, DART intentionally crashed into Dimorphos, the asteroid moonlet in the double-asteroid system of Didymos. 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.
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 together 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.