New asteroid strike images show impact 'a lot bigger than expected'

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The true measure of DART's success will be exactly how much it diverted the asteroid's trajectory.

As astronomers noted that the collision appears to have been far stronger than anticipated, the James Webb and Hubble telescopes on Thursday unveiled their first photographs of a spacecraft purposefully crashing into an asteroid.

This week's historic test of Earth's capacity to protect itself from a potential life-threating asteroid involved the turn of the world's telescopes to the space rock Dimorphos.

On Monday night, NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor blasted into its rugby ball-shaped, pyramid-sized target at 11 million kilometers (6.8 million miles) from Earth.

Following the impact, a massive cloud of dust was seen billowing out of Dimorphos and its larger brother Didymos, which it orbits, in images captured by telescopes positioned on Earth.

Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen's University Belfast who participated in observations with the ATLAS project, although previous photographs showed matter blasting out over thousands of kilometers, the James Webb and Hubble images "zoom in far closer."

According to James Webb and Hubble, a view "within just a few kilometers of the asteroids and you can really see how the material is shooting out from that explosive collision by DART" is possible with the help of James Webb and Hubble, according to Fitzsimmons for AFP.

He remarked, "It's rather spectacular.

Images taken by the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes after NASA's DART spacecraft smashed into an asteroid.

An image captured by James Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) four hours after impact reveals "plumes of material appearing as wisps streaming away from the center of where the impact took place," according to a statement from the European Space Agency, James Webb, and Hubble.

The increasing spray of particles from the impact site of DART may be seen in Hubble photos taken 22, 5, and 8 hours afterward.

"I was concerned there was nothing left."

The "really impressive" Webb and Hubble images, according to Ian Carnelli of the European Space Agency, are strikingly similar to those captured by the toaster-sized satellite LICIACube, which was just 50 kilometers from the asteroid after severing its connection with the DART spacecraft, a few weeks ago.

According to Carnelli, the mission manager of the ESA's Hera project, the photographs show an impact that appears "a lot bigger than we expected." The mission plans to examine the damage in four years.

At first, according to Carnelli to AFP, "I was terrified there was nothing left of Dimorphos."

An estimated 10 meters (33 feet) diameter crater was anticipated to be surveyed by the Hera mission, which is set to launch in October 2024 and land on the asteroid in 2026.

"If there is a crater at all, maybe a piece of Dimorphos was just chunked off," Carnelli said, "it now appears like it will be significantly bigger."

The globe can start preparing to defend itself against larger asteroids that may travel our way in the future by knowing just how much the DART mission was able to deflect the asteroid's track.

According to Carnelli, it will probably take Earth-based telescopes and radars three to four weeks to calculate how much the asteroid's orbit has changed.

Hubble images from 22 minutes, five hours and eight hours after impact show the expanding spray of matter.

'Huge implications

He stated, "I am anticipating a considerably larger deflection than we had anticipated.

The fact that this method may be applied to far larger asteroids would have "major consequences in planetary defense," according to Carnelli.

We previously believed that sending a nuclear bomb would be the only deflection method.

Fitzsimmons asserted that DART would have altered Dimorphos' orbit somewhat, even if no material had been "blown off" the planet.

However, he added, "the more stuff and the faster it's flowing, the greater the deflection there will have been.

DART aims to prevent future asteroids from devastating life on Earth.

James Webb and Hubble's observations will help determine the type of asteroid's surface and how much and quickly materials blasted from it.

The two space telescopes have never looked at the same astronomical object before the asteroid collision.

James Webb has replaced Hubble as the most potent space telescope since its launch in December and the publication of its first photos in July.

The photographs, according to Fitzsimmons, were "a great instance of the additional science you can acquire by using more than one telescope at the same time."

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