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New images reveal moment of DART asteroid impact captured by Italian satellite

By Ashley Strickland, CNN

History was made Monday night when NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft successfully slammed into the asteroid Dimorphos.

DART’s camera shared dramatic images of the asteroid’s surface before it crashed.

Now, new images captured by its companion, a cube satellite known as LICIACube, reveal what the impact looked like from another perspective.

The Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids, provided by the Italian Space Agency, is about the size of a briefcase. It deployed from the DART spacecraft on September 11 and traveled behind it to record the event from a safe distance of about 34 miles (55 kilometers).

Three minutes after impact, the CubeSat flew by Dimorphos — which orbits a larger asteroid, Didymos — to capture images and video.

The series of images showcases bright material releasing from the surface of Dimorphos after the collision. Didymos is in the foreground.

“Here are the pictures taken by @LICIACube of the world’s first planetary defense mission. This is exactly where the #NASA #DartMission ended. An incredible emotion, the beginning of new discoveries,” read a tweet from Argotec Space, an Italian company that developed the CubeSat for the Italian Space Agency.

The egg-shaped asteroid’s surface, covered in boulders, looked similar to Bennu and Ryugu, two other asteroids visited by spacecraft in recent years. Scientists suspect that Dimorphos is a rubble pile asteroid made of loosely bound rocks.

The mission team is eager to learn more about the impact crater left behind by DART, which they estimate to be about 33 to 65 feet (10 to 20 meters) in size. There may even be shattered pieces of the spacecraft in the crater.

The intentional collision, which took place about 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) away from Earth, was humanity’s first asteroid deflection attempt.

INTERACTIVE: One spacecraft’s journey to test Earth’s planetary defenses

Neither Dimorphos nor Didymospose a threat to Earth. But analysis of how much the DART spacecraft was able to alter Dimorphos’ motion could inform techniques to protect Earth should a space rock ever be heading for impact.

While it will take about two months for observations from ground-based telescopes to determine whether DART was successful in slightly shrinking Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos, observatories, including the Virtual Telescope Project in Rome, are already sharing their perspective of the collision event.

Astronomers at the Les Makes observatory on the French island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean also shared a sequence of images that show the asteroid brightening upon impact, as well as a cloud of material that released from its surface afterward. The cloud drifted eastward and dissipated slowly, according to the European Space Agency.

Les Makes is a collaborating station as part of the ESA’s Planetary Defense Office and Near-Earth Object Coordination Center.

A video of observations shared by the observatory condenses about 30 minutes worth of footage into just a few seconds.

“Something like this has never been done before, and we weren’t entirely sure what to expect. It was an emotional moment for us as the footage came in,” said Marco Micheli, astronomer at ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center, in a statement.

As astronomers around the world settle in to study their observations of the asteroid system after impact, the ESA’s Hera mission is gearing up for a future visit to Didymos and Dimorphos.

Hera will serve as a follow-up mission, launching in 2024.

“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,” said Ian Carnelli, Hera Mission Manager, in a statement. “Hera will help us understand what happened to Dimorphos, the first celestial body to be measurably moved by humankind.”

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