The LICIACube photos of the DART incident are released by the Italian Space Agency

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  • Humanity’s first planetary defense test mission got off to a great start when NASA’s DART spacecraft successfully collided with the asteroid Dimorphos in a scheduled collision at 4:44 AM (IST) on September 27.  Now the Italian space agency has released images of the impact captured by LICIACube minutes after the collision.

Images like this help scientists understand the structure and composition of Dimorphus, and are important in determining how effective DART was at deflecting the asteroid. Only three photos of him have been released by the Italian space agency, but more are likely to be released in the future.

The purpose of NASA’s DART mission is to test whether “motion transfer” methods of mitigating asteroids could be a viable strategy if they threaten Earth. This method concerns the use of collisions with large objects, such as spacecraft, to deflect asteroids. The DART crash should have slightly tweaked Dimorphos and altered its orbit around Didymos, the larger asteroid in the binary system.

His LICIACube of the Italian Space Agency captured this image minutes after a DART crashed on her Dimorphos. The larger asteroid in the image is Didymos.

Although dimorphos pose no real threat to the planet, scientists have compared data from DART crashes with data from numerous computer-generated data sets to show that this dynamic impactor method is an effective mitigation strategy.

The Didymos binary system, which now hosts Dimorphus, is less than 11 million kilometers from Earth, and dozens of telescopes stationed around the world are pointing at and observing the system. In the coming weeks, scientists plan to precisely measure Dimorphos’ orbital changes to understand how effectively DART deflected the asteroid.

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