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On September 26th, the clickbait-able happened: NASA smashed a spacecraft going 14,000 mph into an asteroid larger than the Washington Monument. This was intentional, the years-long result of careful planning, engineering, and worldwide collaboration that constituted the Double Asteroid Redirection Test.

What was surprising to scientists was just how spectacular DART’s impact with its target asteroid, Dimorphos, really was. Images taken by the James Webb Telescope and Hubble showed an explosive collision, much bigger than scientists had predicted.

The images in tandem provide far greater detail of the impact’s aftermath, given the different wavelength ranges the two telescopes cover: Webb snapped the event in infrared, while Hubble did so in the visible range. Together, they showed a notable brightening of the system post-crash, with great spikes of ejected material shooting out into space. These images will serve as major pieces in the ongoing puzzle of Dimorphos’ chemical composition and post-impact behavior. 

To NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, this coordination between Hubble and Webb—and a vast network of ground-based telescopes—reflects the power of astronomical collaboration in general. “Webb and Hubble show what we’ve always known to be true at NASA: We learn more when we work together,” said Nelson.

Indeed, international collaboration has been instrumental to DART’s success, particularly in the moments directly following the crash. DART’s companion, the Italian LICIACube satellite, captured the impact from a few dozen miles away. On the ground, the ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre (NEOCC) had half a dozen telescopes in favorable locations observe the event. One of the most striking videos of the crash came out of the Les Makes observatory on Réunion, a French Island slightly east of Madagascar.

Many of these telescopes, including Hubble, will continue to monitor Dimorphos’ orbit, as scientists worldwide work to calculate how much it shifted post-impact. A few years down the line, the ESA’s Hera mission will get an even closer look at the aftermath.

This kind of worldwide collaboration is integral to astronomy. The extremes that define our universe—distance, brightness, mass, time—cannot be effectively confronted when working in isolation: our planet is small enough as it is. While competition to become an astronomer may be stiff, there’s no shortage of resources in space. We need as much coverage as possible, in all wavelengths and all locations.

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Georgia Michelman is a reluctant recent Yale College graduate with backgrounds in physics, astronomy, and history. She is always searching for intersections between the worlds of science and the humanities....