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Telescopes show NASA’s planetary defense test was successful

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Recordings made by the James Webb and Hubble telescopes show that NASA’s “planetary defense” test has achieved its goal. (Photo: advertising)

NASA’s unprecedented “save the earth” test earlier this week was monitored in real time by scientists and observers from around the world, as well as by two of the US Space Agency’s major observatories: the James Webb and Hubble telescopes. . Last week saw the release of the first images taken by the instrument, which for the first time simultaneously observed the same celestial target. They indicate that the impact may have been greater than expected, bolstering hope that the mission’s objective has been met.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was launched last November to collide with Dimorphos 11 million kilometers from Earth and change the course of the asteroid. The collision went according to plan. Now the data collected by the telescopes will help the team infer whether a deviation has occurred. According to Ian Carnelly of the European Space Agency (ESA), the photographs show that the collision is “much stronger than expected.”

“I was very worried that there was nothing left of Dimorphos,” Karnelli told Agence France-Presse. The ESA will launch the Hera mission scheduled for October 2024 to reach the asteroid in 2026 and assess the crater. It was supposed to be about 10m in diameter. Carnelli says plans have changed with the images taken by the telescopes. “It looks like if there is a crater, it will be much larger. Maybe part of Dimorphos was cut out, ”he muses.

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DART, which was the size of a car, collided on Monday (26) with a 160 m diameter asteroid, equivalent to four Christs the Redeemer, at a speed of over 20,000 km/h. Dimorphos was one kilometer from the asteroid Didymos, at an altitude of 780 m, and made a revolution around it in 11 hours and 55 minutes. With shock, this time is expected to be reduced by 10 minutes.

It is likely that it will take at least a week for ground-based telescopes and radars to get a first estimate of how much the asteroid’s orbit has changed. For an accurate measurement, Carnelly says the time frame is three or four weeks. “I expect a much larger deviation than we planned,” admits the project manager for the Hera mission.

Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast, argues that even if no matter had been “ejected” from Dimorphos, DART would have slightly affected its orbit. “But the more matter and the faster it moves, the greater the deflection will be,” he explains.

Miscellaneous data

According to NASA, images taken by telescopes showed a huge cloud of dust expanding from Dimorphos and Didyma. The agency said in a statement that Webb spent five hours recording and took 10 images. One shows “plumes of wick-like material emerging from the center of the impact site.” “This is an unprecedented look at an unprecedented event,” summed up Andy Rivkin, head of the DART research team at Johns Hopkins University in Laurel.

Hubble images – 22 minutes, five and eight hours after the unprecedented impact – show a spray of expanding matter from where DART crashed. “When I saw the data, I was literally speechless, stunned by the incredible detail of the ejection that Hubble recorded,” said Jian-Yang Li of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, who led the observations of the telescope.

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The equipment recorded the collision in different wavelengths of light – Webb in the infrared and Hubble in the visible range. This variety of data will allow scientists to access details of the impact, such as the distribution of particle sizes in the dust cloud and whether large pieces of rock or small particles were ejected.