The James Webb and Hubble telescopes on Thursday revealed their initial images of a spacecraft deliberately crashing into an asteroid, marking the first time the two most powerful space telescopes have observed the same celestial object.
Telescopes around the world turned their gaze towards the space rock Dimorphos earlier this week for a historic test of Earth’s ability to defend itself against a potential future life-threatening asteroid.
On Monday night, 11 million kilometers (6.8 million miles) from Earth, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor slammed into its pyramid-shaped target to the joy of astronomers.
Following the impact, a massive cloud of dust was seen expanding out of Dimorphos and its larger brother Didymos, which it orbits, in images captured by telescopes positioned on Earth.
While those images showed matter spraying out over thousands of kilometers, the James Webb and Hubble images “zoom in much closer”, said Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast involved in observations with the ATLAS project.
Terrifying Yet Beautiful Visuals From Space
James Webb’s images were shown in red because the telescope operates primarily in the infrared spectrum, which allows it to peer further into the universe than ever before.
The images from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 were blue because it shows the impact on visible light.
Hubble images from 22 minutes, 5 hours, and 8.2 hours after impact show the expanding spray of matter from where DART hit on the asteroid’s left.
The accurate measure of DART’s success will be exactly how much it diverted the asteroid’s trajectory, so the world can start preparing to defend itself against more giant asteroids that could head our way in the future.
“The problem we have at the moment is that there’s still a lot of dust and debris around the asteroids… How quickly astronomers can make that measurement will depend on exactly how efficient DART was,” said Fitzsimmons