After a successful collision with a space rock 3 days ago, the Italian Space Agency (ISA) released its first images from the tiny Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube) spacecraft on Tuesday, Sept. 27th.
The images reached Earth three hours after NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART spacecraft successfully impacted an asteroid called Dimorphos at about 7 million miles (11 million kilometers) away from Earth.
The images sent included the before-and-after comparison of the Didymos asteroid system which is comprised of both the larger Didymos and the orbiter, Dimorphos which was NASA’s target.
“We’re really very proud,” Elisabetta Dotto, science team lead at Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF), said during a news conference held in Italian on Tuesday.
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The images were important for scientific understanding of the structure and composition of Dimorphos according to Dotto.
She further explained while the images are only the first to be released, more of the LICIACube images will be released over the coming days.
Conferenza stampa su @LiciaCube:— Agenzia Spaziale ITA (@ASI_spazio) September 27, 2022
Elisabetta Dotto, Science Team Lead di Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF): "Una immagine pre impatto e una post impatto. Si vede il flash prodotto dall’impatto di Dart"
Crediti FOTO ASI/NASA
Segui la diretta su ASITV: https://t.co/XTDIlfMNrh pic.twitter.com/1MjgWBLMo1
In the final image shared today, Dimorphos is surrounded by bright, hazy debris. “Dimorphos is completely covered really by this by this emission of dust and detritus produced by the impact,” Dotto said. Before impact, scientists weren’t sure how the asteroid would respond to the collision.
And if you’re still wondering why NASA would internationally slam into space rock, it was an experiment to see whether an asteroid can be potentially steered off course – just in case we ever find ourselves in a tricky situation where a large Asteroid is on a collision course with Earth in the future.
In the test, NASA intentionally crashed the DART spacecraft into Dimorphos, a smaller asteroid that orbits a larger one in order to see whether this would affect its orbit in any way.
With the new experiment, astronomers are now keeping a close eye on the Didymos system in order to measure how much Dimorphos’ orbit sped up due to the collision.
That’s the data NASA needs to determine how successful DART was, but there’s no reason to stop the observations there. Mission personnel also recruited three spacecraft and countless ground-based observatories to watch the impact and its aftermath.
LICIACube which photographed the entire event is a tiny spacecraft that was with DART before being deployed on Sept. 11th.
NASA then proceeded to test its two cameras on targets including Earth and the Pleiades star cluster.
The LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid (LEIA) camera can photograph with higher resolution but only captures images in black and white, whereas LICIACube Unit Key Explorer (LUKE) carries red-green-blue color filters and can observe a wider field of view.
On Monday, the tiny spacecraft flew past the impact site about three minutes after DART had collided with Dimorphos and took photos of the entire event.
LICIACube also imaged the far side of Dimorphos, opposite DART’s crash site.
Now, LICIACube is on its own as Italy’s first deep-space mission, cruising through deep space as it slowly beams its images back to Earth.
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