NASA Asteroid-Crashing Mission’s 10,000Km Debris Trail Stuns Astronomers

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NASA Asteroid-Crashing Mission’s Stunning 10,000Km Debris Trail

NASA recently pulled off a mission that would pave the way for future planetary defense systems to protect Earth from space objects hurtling towards it. The space agency sent a spacecraft that collided with the Dimorphos asteroid to change its path. While the news on whether the mission was successful is still awaited, it’s learned that the collision left behind a 10,000Km debris trail.

 

The SOAR (Southern Astrophysical Research) telescope in Chile managed to capture a breathtaking image of the impact showing the trail from the asteroid as a white line speeding through space with the universe’s blackness in the backdrop.

Observations To Continue For Months

NASA’s DART spacecraft intentionally crashed into the Dimorphos asteroid to test the planetary defense system that is built to protect our planet from potentially hazardous asteroids coming toward us. The trail seen in the image is made of ejecta that get pushed away by the Sun’s radiation pressure and resembles the tail of a comet.

“It’s amazing how clearly we were able to capture the structure and extent of the aftermath in the days following the impact,” said astronomer Teddy Kareta who used SOAR to snap the event.

The astronomers will be observing the ejecta for a few more months. “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,” said another astronomer Matthew Knight.

Was The DART Mission Successful?

These observations will enable researchers to learn more about the surface of the asteroid, how much material was wiped off after the collision, the speed of ejection, and if the crash released large chunks of material or just dust.

“Analyzing this information will help scientists protect Earth and its inhabitants by better understanding the amount and nature of the ejecta resulting from an impact, and how that might modify an asteroid’s orbit,” NOIRLab which operates the SOAR telescope noted.

The DART mission team is expected to provide information on whether the mission was able to change the trajectory of the Dimorphos asteroid, though it will take some time before the team comes to firm conclusions about the mission’s success.

To make sure the mission is a success, DART’s team at NASA’s JPL and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) will look at the data gathered by observatories that were closely observing Dimorphos’ path. The team will be examining the data for two months before providing “the full quantitative answer.”

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