When NASA’s DART mission slams into an asteroid called Dimorphos next week, three different science spacecraft will try to observe the action.
Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is designed to test a method of planetary defense that could be used if humans discover a large asteroid on collision with Earth. The spacecraft carried a tiny Cubesat to record its dramatic end, but three other eyes in the sky will also try to watch the impact: the James Webb and Hubble Space Telescopes and another NASA asteroid mission, Lucy.
“This is a unique opportunity and a unique moment to use all possible resources to maximize what we have learned,” she said during the press conference held on September 12.
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DART was launched in November 2021 and headed for a twin asteroid system anchored on a larger Didymos, around which a lunar probe called Dimorphos turns every 11 hours and 55 minutes. On Monday (Sept. 26), DART will test a technique called a kinetic impact, a fancy term for slamming something big enough and fast enough into an asteroid to nudge it into orbit.
Scientists want to observe a known collision event to understand how a future planetary defense mission might play out if humans choose to deflect an asteroid headed for a collision with Earth. (Neither Didymos nor Dimorphos pose any threat of impact on Earth, and nothing that happens Monday will change that, the DART team stressed.)
Mission officials hope to see images of the impact site just three minutes after launch, thanks to the tiny Cubesat, LYTIA Cub, which DART rolled out earlier this month; The European Space Agency will also send a separate mission, Herato study the site in detail starting in late 2026.
But viewing the very moment of impact from a telescope in space, unobstructed by the blurring of Earth’s atmosphere, would certainly be a nice bonus. So NASA gets a veteran Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which just started operating this summer to try to catch the impact of DART, which will take place at 19:14 EDT (23:14 GMT).
It is still unknown how good these space observations turned out to be. “Let me just emphasize that JWST is not designed for that; it’s a difficult measurement for them,” Chabot said. Dimorphos is much closer and moving much faster than the distant galaxies at the center of JWST’s work. “They’ll be looking; we’ll see what they get.”
JWST faces a second challenge, which is that the telescope must regularly check its guide stars and adjust, meaning its observations could begin minutes after impact, said Tom Statler, a DART program scientist, during a news conference that took place on Thursday (September). 22).
Hubble has its limitations, as the telescope will be on the wrong side of the Earth at the time of the collision, but it will begin observing about 15 minutes after the collision. “Hubble won’t actually pick up the exact moment of impact,” Statler said. “That’s okay because we don’t really expect anything to actually be observed from the exact moment of impact.”
Along with the two space telescopes, NASA staff also arranged instruments aboard the Lucy mission to observe the impact. Lucy was launched in October 2021 to study asteroids orbiting the Sun at the same distance as Jupiter and which scientists believe holds clues to the earliest days of the solar system’s history.
But for now, Lucy is still near Earth because it has to fly by next month to direct its trajectory to targets so it can catch the strike. (Similarly, in May, the spacecraft took the opportunity to watch the moon disappear during a total lunar eclipse.) Earth will be about 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Didymus at the time of impact; Lucy will be about twice as far and at a different viewing angle, Statler noted.
Although DART personnel only need to measure the change in Dimorphos’ orbit to determine whether the mission was successful, scientists hope to learn more about countless other characteristics of the moon, including its rotation and structure.
In addition to the immediate effects of the impact, the telescopes will also periodically check Dimorphos until about the end of the year, Thomas said, complementing continued observations from the ground.
However the observations from the spacecraft go, the rest of us will have to watch from Earth. And it will be to see something: NASA has set up a dedicated video feed that will broadcast live DART views of Dimorphos as it accelerates toward impact, with a new image sent every second until the spacecraft goes dark.
https://www.space.com/dart-asteroid-impact-space-telescope-observations/ Space telescopes will attempt to observe the DART asteroid collision