News Release

Unistellar Citizen Science Network and SETI Institute contribute to planetary defense

Citizen scientists and SETI Institute researchers collaborate to observe and analyze NASA’s DART impact and confirm the efficiency of the kinetic impactor technique to deflect an asteroid.

Peer-Reviewed Publication

SETI Institute


video: DART impact as observed by Bruno Payet from the Réunion Island on September 26, 2022. view more 

Credit: Bruno Payet

March 1, 2023, Mountain View, CA – Citizen scientists worldwide made decisive contributions to defend our planet by recording accurate and meaningful observations supporting the NASA DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission. The team, including eight SETI Institute astronomers and led by SETI Institute postdoctoral fellow Ariel Graykowski published their results in Nature on March 1.

NASA’s first test mission for planetary defense, DART, which seeks to test and validate a method to protect Earth in case of an asteroid strike, reached

Dimorphos, a moon of the near-Earth asteroid Didymos on September 26, 2022. Unistellar citizen scientists were mobilized by SETI Institute researchers to observe the impact live, which was only visible from parts of Africa. Several observers in Kenya and Réunion Island successfully recorded the event with their smart telescope, witnessing the first successful deflection of an astronomical object using human technology.

“Our citizen astronomers were excited to witness with their Unistellar telescopes the impact of DART, the first ever attempt to divert an asteroid. It’s commendable that we are the only group that has reported a scientific analysis of the impact, showing the ejecta cloud and the aftermath for a month. There is always a clear starry night somewhere in the Unistellar network, and that’s without doubt the strength of our network; we can see any part of the sky at any time,” said Marchis.

The paper led by Graykowski was published in Nature along with four others describing the aftermath of the impact and confirming the deflection of the moon of Didymos. This publication stands out due to the involvement of citizen science as the driving force behind the study, including four observations taken at the time of impact.

All the 31 citizen scientists of the Unistellar network involved in this study are co-authors of this scientific paper. Four of them (Patrice Huet, Matthieu Limagne, Bruno Payet from Réunion Island, and the Traveling telescope team in Kenya) observed the impact. Eight scientists from the SETI Institute (Ariel Graykowski, Ryan Lambert, Franck Marchis, Dorian Cazeneuve, Paul Dalba, Thomas Esposito, Daniel Peluso, and Lauren Sgro) have contributed to this research.

The SETI Institute is Unistellar’s scientific partner, working with Unistellar to mobilize teams to conduct observations leading to significant scientific discoveries and contributions.

Patrice Huet (Réunion Island)

The observation of the impact of the DART probe on the asteroid Dimorphos was for me a very emotional moment that took me back almost 28 years earlier, when I was a teenager trying to observe the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter. Although I knew that it was almost impossible to see, I still kept hope. I had the same feeling during the impact of the DART probe. But the surprise was yet to come, when I observed the formation of the dust cloud around the asteroid. It was just incredible! This is a highlight of my life as an amateur astronomer made possible thanks to the Unistellar eVscope.



About the SETI Institute

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to lead humanity’s quest to understand the origins and prevalence of life and intelligence in the Universe and to share that knowledge with the world. Its research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages expertise in data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia and government agencies, including NASA and NSF.

Contact information
Rebecca McDonald
Director of Communications
SETI Institute

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