Telescopes and satellites capture spider-like clouds and debris after NASA spacecraft smashes into asteroid

On the left is Didymos, the large asteroid orbiting Dimorphos. On the right is Dimorphos and the rubble pumping was created by the impact of the DART.ASI/NASA

NASA managed to smash a spacecraft into an asteroid on Monday night.

The spacecraft took images of its avoidance until the end, when it crashed into the targeted space rock: Dimorphos. In other corners of the globe, powerful instruments provided detailed observations of the impact and its outcome.

The DART mission, short for Double Asteroid Redirect Test, crashed a spacecraft into Dimorphos so that scientists could see if the impact is teasing the space rock that little. Dimorphos is about 525 feet in diameter, and orbits another larger asteroid – the 2,650-foot-wide Didymos.

“As far as we can tell, our first planetary defense test was successful,” said Elena Adams, DART mission systems engineer, during a live stream after the successful crash. “I think Earthlings should sleep better. Sure, I will.”

From images taken with powerful telescopes and close-up shots from a tiny satellite, see the first terrifying observations from NASA’s test to deflect dangerous asteroids from a collision course with Earth.

The Italian space agency released the first batch of images from its tiny satellite, called the LCIACube, on Tuesday. DART deployed the probe on September 11 to capture and transmit images of the celestial encounter.

The satellite has two cameras: one with a wider field of view, nicknamed LUKE, and a black-and-white camera, LEIA, which captures high-resolution images.

DART Collision with Dimorphos

The asteroid system was captured by two LCIACube optical cameras. Didymos is on the left.ASI/NASA

At a safe distance from the impact site, the small satellite was able to capture a large cloud of debris after the NASA spacecraft rammed into Dimorphos.

Below, in a zoomed-in view of the collision, a huge plume of ejected material explodes from a stricken Dimorphos. The image also shows what appears to be a dent in the center of the larger asteroid.

Planetary scientists will want to study the spider-like debris plumes that emerge from Dimorphos.

LICIACube image showing the dusty aftermath of the DART impact.ASI/NASA

The small Italian satellite captured a plume of spider-like debris ejected from the targeted space rock, below.

LCIACube image showing the aftermath of the DART impact.

Spider-like debris erupted from Dimorphos after the collision.ASI/NASA

Larry Denneau, principal investigator for an asteroid tracking survey called ATLAS, told the French news agency AFP that the collision was caused by “very large” debris that grew to about “several thousand miles in diameter. “

About three minutes after the crash, LICIACube flew within 35 miles of the asteroid Dimorphos, to survey the aftermath of the collision. The observations will tell the astronomers how much the asteroid’s trajectory has changed. Astronomers will observe the debris that the collision sent flying into space.

“Weeks and months of hard work are starting now for scientists and technicians involved in this mission, so stay tuned because we have a lot to say!” LCIACube team write on Tuesday.

Dimorphos is located about 6.8 million miles from Earth, but more than two dozen ground-based telescopes focused on the collision.

Views from the Hawaii-based ATLAS asteroid tracking telescope system, below, show the asteroid system brightening dramatically at the moment of impact as a massive plume of debris emerged from the crash site.

The probe was traveling at more than 14,000 miles per hour before impact. It hit the asteroid about 17 meters from its exact center — an astronomical “bullseye,” Adams told reporters Monday afternoon.

In collaboration with the European Space Agency, astronomers at the Les Makes observatory, on the French island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean, also captured footage of the event. A video of observations shared by the observatory, below, condenses about 30 minutes of footage into a few seconds.

“Nothing like this had ever been done before, and we weren’t quite sure what to expect. It was an emotional moment for us when the footage came in,” Marco Micheli, an astronomer at the Agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination European Space Center, in a statement.

In a few years, the European Space Agency will launch a mission called Hera to study Didymos and Dimorphos in depth. By observing the deformations caused by the impact, the spacecraft aims to better understand the composition and formation of Dimorphos.

“The results from DART will prepare us for Hera’s visit to the Didymos binary system to examine the aftermath of this impact a few years from now,” Ian Carnelli, Hera Mission Manager, said in a press release. “Hera will help us understand what happened to Dimorphos, the first celestial body that mankind measurably moved.”

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