Webb and Hubble: DART collision in Dimorphos was stronger

NASA’s DART impactor slammed much harder into the asteroid Dimorphos, images from the Hubble and James Webb telescopes reveal.

The James Webb and Hubble Space Telescopes revealed their first images of a spacecraft deliberately crashing into an asteroid on Thursday, with the team of astronomers saying that the impact seems to have been much greater than expected. NASA’s DART impactor slammed into its pyramid-sized, rugby-ball-shaped target 7 million miles from Earth on Monday night. Images taken by ground-based telescopes showed a large cloud of dust expanding from Dimorphos, and its orbiting older brother Didymos, after the spacecraft impacted.

Ian Carnelli of the European Space Agency said the images from Webb and Hubble are “really impressive” and show an impact that looks like “much bigger than we expected”added ESA’s Hera mission manager. “I was really worried there wouldn’t be any Dimorphos left” at first, Carnelli told AFP.

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The Hera mission, scheduled to launch in October 2024 and reach the asteroid in 2026, had hoped to survey a crater about 10 meters in diameter at Dimporhos. Now it looks like it will be much bigger, Carnelli said, “If there is a crater, maybe a piece of Dimorphos has broken off.”

The true measure of DART’s success will be exactly how much it deflected the asteroid’s trajectory, so that the world can begin to prepare to defend against larger asteroids that could be headed our way in the future. Ground-based telescopes and radar are likely to take at least a week to get a first estimate of how much the asteroid’s orbit has been altered, and three to four weeks before there is an accurate measurementCarnelli said.