The dramatic mission to alter the trajectory of an asteroid has created a trail of debris stretching tens of thousands of miles behind the “moonlet” Dimorphos, according to NASA.
Scientists say the “ejecta” was largely generated by the asteroid’s recoil after being hit by a DART spacecraft in September.
“The survey team investigated the implications of how this planetary defense technique could be used. … This included further analysis of ‘ejecta’ – the many tons of asteroid rock moved and thrown into the planet. space through impact,” NASA reported on December 15.
“Scientists estimate that the DART impact moved more than two million pounds (one million kilograms) of dusty rock through space – enough to fill six or seven train cars,” NASA said. “Solar radiation pressure stretched the ejecta stream into a comet-like tail tens of thousands of miles in length.”
NASA scientists continue to study the data and have not addressed the implications of the debris trail. However, the debris is not considered a threat to Earth.
The DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission was “the world’s first demonstration of planetary defense technology”.
His goal, therefore, was to see if a spacecraft could be used to alter the trajectory of a potentially dangerous asteroid, should it threaten Earth.
It worked from that perspective: DART’s 23,000 km/h collision with Dimorphos slowed its rotation by 33 minutes, according to NASA.
Dimorphos – a minor planet moon orbiting the asteroid Didymos – did not pose a threat to Earth, making it a good test subject, experts said.
“We can now begin to apply this knowledge,” Andy Rivkin, co-leader of the DART survey team, said in the press release. “Studying the ejecta produced during kinetic impact – all derived from Dimorphos – is a key way to gain new knowledge about the nature of its surface.”
The calculations show that “the ejecta helped move the asteroid more than the spacecraft,” NASA said.
Understanding this “momentum transfer” will play a key role in creating a strategy for Earth’s defense against asteroids, according to NASA.
The DART spacecraft was built and operated by Johns Hopkins APL for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, officials said.
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