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Image of 6,000 Mile Long Asteroid Tail Created by NASA’s Deliberate Crash

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dimorphos tail

After NASA successfully crashed a spacecraft into Dimorphos last week, the asteroid now has a 6,000 mile-long tail made of dust and debris.

Astronomers using the Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope (SOAR) in Chile captured an image that reveals Dimorphos’ new comet-like tail which was caused by NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) and the Sun’s radiation pressure which pushed the material away.

“It is amazing how clearly we were able to capture the structure and extent of the aftermath in the days following the impact,” says Teddy Kareta who imaged the new tail.

Kareta, along with Matthew Knight of the U.S. Naval Academy, used the 4.1-meter SOAR telescope at the Cerro Tolololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile to capture the vast plume of debris that was blasted from the asteroid’s surface.

DART

SOAR will continue to observe the aftermath of the DART impact, seen above, collecting data that will help assess how successful the attempt to modify Dimophos’ orbit has been.

“Now begins the next phase of work for the DART team as they analyze their data and observations by our team and other observers around the world who shared in studying this exciting event,” Knight says.

“We plan to use SOAR to monitor the ejecta in the coming weeks and months. The combination of SOAR and AEON is just what we need for efficient follow-up of evolving events like this one.”

Photos of the impact were also pictured by a small “mini photographer” spacecraft called the LICIACube last week.

Protecting Planet Earth

Analyzing the impact that DART had on the asteroid will help scientists understand how to protect Earth and its inhabitants in the event that a meteor is on a direct-collision course with Earth.

The image taken from SOAR should reveal how much damage DART did to the asteroid, how much of its material was ejected and how fast. Scientists also hope to learn about the nature of the surface of Dimorphos.

The entire exercise demonstrates the planetary-defense capabilities that humans have. Another observatory is currently under construction that will conduct a census of the Solar System to search for potentially dangerous asteroids. The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is being built in Chile and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Energy.


Image credits:CTIO/NOIRLab/SOAR/NSF/AURA/T. Kareta (Lowell Observatory), M. Knight (US Naval Academy).

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