Asteroid: collision images

The first photo came on Monday, hours after the collision, From Project Atlas, telescope in South Africa. There we see, literally, an explosion: as the asteroid Didymos passes through the image field, what looks like a massive explosion of light occurs: it’s the effect.

Didymus, however, is not even a locus of influence. This 800-meter-wide asteroid is accompanied by Demorphos, which was the target of DART. This moon is only 160 meters wide, too small to be seen in the photo. But the force of the collision was enough to produce a cloud of debris – and that’s what gives this burst of light: in a few minutes, the brightness has doubled by 10, as a result of the sun’s rays being reflected off the trash. The telescope took a picture every 40 seconds.

ATLAS, which means Another asteroid collision warning system, he was not directed to this region of the sky by chance. It is part of a network of four telescopes around the world that are scanning the sky for new asteroids that could collide with Earth.

But even for those experts in this matter, the size of the debris cloud was a surprise, Report it The New York Times“We didn’t expect to see such a large plume of dust coming out,” explains astronomer John Tonery, of the University of Hawaii, co-director of ATLAS. “Within an hour, this cloud was the size of Earth. Astronomers expect the debris to take a few weeks to return to Demorphos.

Other images arriving from other telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere are less exciting, but the simple fact of seeing something at this distance attests to the strength of the impact. For example, another South African telescope (South African Astronomical Observatoryor SAAO) The same luminous glow. Italian Virtual Telescope Project Spread Similar picture sequence.

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Source: SAAO

live from space

However, a different set of images came from space and are directly related to the DART mission. This is the small Italian LICIACube probe, barely the size of a shoebox, whose job was to follow DART. Thus, his view of the debris cloud is more detailed: his images show it to be asymmetric, which can be explained by the angle at which DART broke apart or by the shape of the Earth.

The impact of DART on an asteroid seen by LICIACube
4 images captured by LICIACube show a more complex projectile. UPS / NASA

Other images have also come from space, but are closer to Earth: the James Webb and Hubble telescopes. It was not obvious to the first, and it is not designed to detect moving objects. But in his case, it is possible that his instruments will help learn more about the chemical composition of the asteroid.

DART impact on an asteroid - seen by James-Webb
Infrared image, taken 4 hours after impact. NASA / European Space Agency / STSci

As for the Hubble telescope, it was unfortunate that the Earth was between Demorphos and the time of the collision, but it took pictures after that, showing the expanding cloud of debris.

DART's after-effect on the asteroid, seen by Hubble
Ultraviolet images were taken 22 min, 5 h and 8.2 h, respectively, after the collision. NASA / European Space Agency

In theory, all this data on the dust plume or column should help learn more about the structure and composition of Dimorphos. But in the end, it is the effect that this collision will have on the orbit of this “moon” around its asteroid – 11 hours and 55 minutes at the moment – that remains the mission’s raison d’être. The change, no matter how small, could reveal how much force is required to turn an asteroid off its course toward us—if such an operation proves necessary.

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