Updated Sep 29, 2022 - Science

In photos: NASA unveils images of satellite crash with asteroid

Images of Dimorphos captured by the Hubble Space Telescope 22 minutes, 5 hours and 8.2 hours after impact.
Images of Dimorphos captured by the Hubble Space Telescope 22 minutes, 5 hours and 8.2 hours after impact. Photo: NASA, ESA, Jian-Yang Li, Alyssa Pagan

NASA on Thursday shared the first images captured by the James Webb and Hubble space telescopes of a spacecraft slamming into an asteroid in a first-of-its-kind experiment earlier this week.

Why it matters: NASA's undertaking — called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) — marked the first time humans have changed the course of a celestial body and was a major milestone in the space agency's planetary defense mission.

  • The technology tested in the DART mission could one day be used to redirect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
  • Asteroid strikes are rare, but an impact from a large space rock could cause significant citywide or regional damage.

How it works: The goal of the crash was to change the orbit of a moonlet asteroid, called Dimorphos, around a larger space rock called Didymos. Neither poses an immediate threat to Earth.

  • The asteroid duo are roughly 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) away from Earth.

The big picture: Many of the photos were captured by the miniature satellite, LICIACube, which was equipped with two cameras and was deployed by DART several days before impact.

  • The small satellite, which was produced by the Italian Space Agency, flew past Dimorphos just minutes after the crash to collect the images. The Italian space agency released the first images from LICIACube on Tuesday.
  • Large streaks of Dimorphos' surface material, also called ejecta, can be seen in the images, as well as what appears to be a crater.
  • Before the collision, scientists estimated that DART's crash would excavate a crater on the asteroid and blast between 22,000 and 220,000 pounds (between 9,979 and 99,790 kilograms) of ejecta, into space.

What's next: It will take weeks of observing the asteroid duo to precisely determine how much the impact altered Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos.

  • The Hubble Space Telescope plans to monitor the Didymos-Dimorphos system 10 more times over the next three weeks to understand how the ejecta cloud behaves over time, so more images of the aftermath may be released.
In photos:
An image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows Dimorphos four hours after impact.
An image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows Dimorphos in near infrared 4 hours after impact. Photo: NASA, ESA, CSA, Cristina Thomas, Ian Wong
An image of the aftermath of DART's collision with Dimorphos, the target asteroid, captured by LICIACube.
An image of the aftermath of DART's collision with Dimorphos, the target asteroid, captured by LICIACube. Photo: NASA/ITA
DART's last image of Dimorphos before impact.
DART's last image of Dimorphos before impact. Photo: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL
Another image of the aftermath captured by LICIACube.
Another image of the aftermath showing unscathed Didymos next to a major plume of ejecta shrouding its moonlet, Dimorphos, captured by LICIACube. Photo: NASA/ITA
A closer image of impacted Dimorphos next to Didymos.
A closer image of impacted Dimorphos next to Didymos captured by LICIACube. Photo: NASA/ITA
Streaks of ejecta from Dimorphos reflecting light from the Sun captured by LICIACube. Photo: NASA/ITA
An image of Dimorphos before impact captured by DART.
An image of Dimorphos before impact captured by DART. NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

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