Telescope Reveals Huge Debris Trail from NASA’s Asteroid Smash-Up

Telescope Reveals Huge Debris Trail from NASA's Asteroid Smash-Up
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A bright beam of light shows debris from NASA's DART test.

NASA’s DART spacecraft last week crashed on purpose Dimorphosa, a small sunflower orbiting the larger asteroid Didymos. A telescope now on the ground in Chile captured images of the giant plume created by the impact in the days following the encounter.

The crash was a planetary defense test; NASA is trying to find out if a kinetic impactor could change the trajectory of a space rock relative to Earth if we ever find a large rock on a collision course with us. Space agency Center for Near-Earth Objects exists to track the position of these objects and their orbits.

NASA is still examining collision data to determine if the Double Asteroid Orientation Test, or DART, changed Dimorphos’ orbital trajectory around its larger companion, but impact images Thick and fast returns from all telescopic lenses have turned into a historic event.

The latest images are from the Southern Astrophysical Survey (SOAR) Telescope in Chile, operated by NOIRLab. The SOAR telescope is located in the foothills of the Andes in an arid environment with clear, cloudless skies, making the region ideal for ground-based telescopes.

Expanding The dust trail during the collision is clearly visible, extending to the right corner of the image. according to NOIRLab release, the debris trail extends about 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) from the point of impact. “It’s amazing how clearly we were able to capture the structure and scale of the fallout in the days after the impact,” Lowell Observatory astronomer Teddy Kareta, who conducted the observation, said in a statement.

NASA scientists have yet to make a definitive statement about DART’s success, but the impact is a success in itself. Additional findings about the event will soon follow: exactly how much material was removed from Didymos, how much material was pulverized, and how fast it was ejected. The data could shed important light on the impact of kinetic impactors on the “rubble pile” asteroids that Dimorphos appears on. Debris pile asteroids have loosely bound conglomerations of surface material, which may explain these dramatic post-impact appearances of the moon.

In nearby Chile, Vera C. Rubin Observatory sky survey will start soon. Among his charges is the evaluation of potentially dangerous near-Earth objects – although given recent tests, perhaps asteroids should be our concern.

More: Ground Telescopes Capture Jaw-Dropping Views of DART Asteroid Impact

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