To find a little scattering, NASA’s space mission has slowed down to see the stars while on its way to its destination.
The agency’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test agency, also known as DART, took a photo of the bright star Vega on May 27, NASA said in a statement (opens a new tab) on Friday (June 17). DART, launched on November 24, 2021, is on a 10-month-long trek to a binary asteroid system called Didymos.
The goal of the star-studded photography campaign was to see how much light was lost in a large DART image, known as the Didymos Reconnaissance and the Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO), officials said.
“We especially wanted something bright, and Vega shines,” Carolyn Ernst, a DRACO scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement.
“We take a series of photos and look at the light that can disperse parts of the camera, keeping it where it should not be,” Ernst added. “We do both long and short exposure to determine the different steps that diffused light can be.”
Vega, 25 lightyears from Earth, is one of the brightest stars in the universe. The star is part of the constellation Lyra, and with the stars, Deneb and Altair form an asterism known as the Summer Triangle.
DRACO took two black and white Vega photos. The first, aimed directly at the star, was deliberately filled with scattered light experiments. You can see the filling of the space as “spikes” at the edge of the star, caused by “a pattern of variation of the structure holding the second camera mirror in place,” NASA said.
A second image from DART deliberately placed Vega outside the camera viewing area to see “halo-like light,” NASA said. The light occurred due to Vega light “scattering of various parts of the DRACO and the machine,” the agency said.