An asteroid that was rammed by a NASA space probe is now leaving thousands of kilometers of dust and debris in its wake after the impact.
Astronomers captured the scene millions of miles away with a telescope in Chile.
The observations two days after last month’s planetary defense test were recently released by a US National Science Foundation laboratory in Arizona.
The image shows a comet-like tail 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) long, made up of dust and miscellaneous material ejected from the impact crater.
That trail is rapidly moving away from the asteroid, largely due to solar radiation pressure, said Matthew Knight of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, who made the observation with Lowell Observatory’s Teddy Kareta using the SOAR telescope. (Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope), in Chile.
Scientists expect the tail to grow even longer and spread out further, becoming so faint that it will be undetectable.
“At that point, the material will be like any other dust floating in the solar system,” Knight said Tuesday in an email.
More observations are planned to determine how much and what kind of material was ejected from Dimorphos, a smaller 160-meter satellite orbiting a larger asteroid, Didymos.
Launched nearly a year ago, NASA’s DART space probe was destroyed in the collision. The $325 million mission to deflect the asteroid’s orbit was a rehearsal for the day a large space body heads for Earth. Dimorphos and Didymos never posed and do not pose a danger to the planet, NASA said.
They are impressive
The world now has stunning new photos of a space probe colliding with an asteroid, the first planetary defense test of its kind.
NASA released on Thursday of last week the first photographs of the spectacular event taken by the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes.
Telescopes from all seven continents also watched as NASA’s DART probe slammed into the innocuous asteroid Dimorphos, 11 million kilometers (7 million miles) from Earth, with the aim of altering its orbit.
Scientists won’t know the exact change until November. The test results are expected to build confidence in the technique’s use against a dangerous asteroid that could one day come heading for Earth.
“It’s an unprecedented view of an unprecedented event,” Andy Rivkin, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University and mission leader, said in a statement.
All of those pictures will help scientists learn more about the small asteroid, which ended up with a sizeable crater.
Hubble and Webb will continue to observe Dimorphs and Didimos in the coming weeks.
The $325 million DART mission was launched last year. The spacecraft was built and managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.