NASA’s DART Asteroid Collision Blows Up Large Dust Clouds Show First Images

Ramish Zafar
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A view of Dimorphos's surface from 12 kilometers. Image: Image: NASA/John Hopkins APL

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After a successful asteroid impact of the DART mission, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) shared the final image of the mission's impactor spacecraft colliding with the moonlet astroid Dimorphos of the Didymos asteroid system. The high definition images that captured the spacecraft's final moments before impact show a detailed view of the asteroid's surface, and soon after the mission ended, imagery of the impact collected by the Virtual Telescope Project using a telescope in South Africa revealed that the brightness of the main asteroid Didymos had changed - potentially indicating that the mission was a success in affecting the asteroid system.

NASA's DART Mission Creates Large Cloud Of Dust Post Impact Show First Images

During a teleconference after the mission was over, NASA engineers and scientists shared that they encountered little to no problems in their attempt to crash an impactor spacecraft into an asteroid at 14,000 miles per hour and at a distance of millions of kilometers away from Earth. The mission was one of the more complex tasks that the space agency has performed of late, and it involved the spacecraft becoming autonomous as it approached its target and reoriented itself to the moonlet asteroid from the main asteroid.

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Cameras on the DART spacecraft showed the moonlet asteroid in detail, with one of the final images before impact revealing a 100 feet patch on the celestial body. Others showed both the asteroid and its moon together, and the final image before the impact only partially showed the surface as the spacecraft was in the process of transmitting data to Earth as it hit the moonlet asteroid Dimorphos.

However, while NASA's coverage of the event ended after impact, astronomer Gianluca Masi had partnered up with Berto Monard in South Africa to use Monard's telescope for taking one of the first looks at the asteroid system after the impact.

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These images were broadcast live at The Virtual Telescope Project's live stream for post impact, and soon afterward, a collection of these was shared on the organization's website. These images show that the impact generated a large cloud of dust, which was so large that it ended up reducing the brightness of Didymos in the telescope's sensor.

Due to its size, telescopes are able to only track Didymos and not Dimorphos, with a change in brightness of the asteroid being the main indication of the existence of a moonlet that is orbiting it. Details shared by NASA's DART program scientist Mr. Tom Statler outline that the agency will monitor changes in the amount of time that it takes for Didymos's brightness to change to determine what impact the DART impactor spacecraft had on the moonlet asteroid's orbit.

More images of the asteroid system will be available soon, with the Italian Space Agency's (ASI) Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging Asteroids (LICIACube) set to do the heavy lifting. This satellite sent the rare images of Earth from 11 million kilometers over the weekend as part of the DART mission, and it has two cameras on board to capture the debris cloud which is now confirmed to have been ejected after DART's impact.

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