By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Staff Writer
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The world now has stunning new photos of this week’s asteroid impact, the first planetary defense test of its kind.
NASA on Thursday released images of the dramatic event taken by the Hubble and Webb space telescopes.
A few hours later, SpaceX joined NASA in announcing that they are studying the feasibility of sending a private mission to Hubble, possibly led by a billionaire, to raise the aging telescope’s orbit and extend its lifespan.
Telescopes on seven continents watched as NASA’s Dart spacecraft slammed into the harmless space rock Monday, 7 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth, hoping to disrupt its orbit.
Scientists won’t know the precise change until November; The results of the demonstration are expected to instill confidence in using the technique if a killer asteroid is headed our way one day.
“This is an unprecedented view of an unprecedented event,” Johns Hopkins University planetary astronomer and mission leader Andy Rivkin said in a statement.
All of these images will help scientists learn more about the small asteroid Dimorphos, which took the hit and ended up with a sizeable crater. The impact sent jets of rock and dirt into space, appearing as bright rays emanating in the latest photos.
The brightness of this double asteroid system, the 160-meter (525-foot) Dimorphos is actually the small moon around a larger asteroid, tripled after impact, as seen in Hubble images, according to NASA.
Hubble and Webb will continue to observe Dimorphos and its large companion Didymos for the next several weeks.
The $325 million Dart mission launched last year. The spacecraft was built and managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
As for Hubble, NASA officials stressed Thursday that the 32-year-old observatory is in good shape and could have another decade of life left.
Hubble’s orbit is steadily decaying, but the telescope could have even more years to go if it were boosted from its current position of 540 kilometers (335 miles) above Earth to 600 kilometers (375 miles) or more. The six-month technical feasibility study will also consider whether any parts could be replaced, presumably by a crew.
Jared Isaacman, a Pennsylvania tech entrepreneur who financed his own SpaceX flight last year with the contest winners, said a Hubble mission, if approved, would fit nicely into his planned series of space flights. But he stopped short of saying whether he was volunteering.
“We’re working on crazy ideas all the time,” NASA science mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen told reporters. “Frankly, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
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