NASA’s successful asteroid impact test apparently resulted in a beautiful mess. According to the Associated Press, astronomers using Chile’s Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR)
Telescope captured an image revealing that DART’s collision with Dimorphos left a dust and debris trail over 6,000 miles long.
The spacecraft was not solely to blame; rather, the Sun’s radiation pressure pushed the material away, much like a comet’s tail would.
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According to the researchers, the trail will only grow in size. It should eventually reach the point where the dust stream is virtually indistinguishable from the other particles floating around the Solar System.
NASA did not cause problems for future probes and explorers. The space agency chose Dimorphos (a moonlet of the asteroid Didymos) because the intentional collision would not endanger Earth.
Of course, the capture was about more than just getting a dramatic shot. Data collected by SOAR, the Astronomical Event Observatory Network, and other observers will be used by scientists to learn more about the collision and Dimorphos itself.
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They’ll figure out how much and how fast material was ejected from the asteroid, as well as whether DART produced large debris chunks or’merely’ fine dust.
These will aid in understanding how spacecraft can change an asteroid’s orbit, potentially improving Earth’s defenses against cosmic rocks.