Last week, NASA’s DART spacecraft intentionally crashed in Dimorphos, a small moon orbiting the larger asteroid Didymos. Now, a ground-based telescope in Chile has imaged the massive plume created by the impact in the days following the encounter.
The crash was a test of planetary defense; NASA is investigating whether a kinetic impactor can alter the trajectory of an Earth-bound space rock, should we ever spot a large one on a collision course with us. space agency Near-Earth Object Center exists to monitor the state of these objects and their orbits.
NASA is still sifting through data from the collision to determine whether the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, altered Dimorphos’ orbital path around its larger companion, but impact pictures arrive en masse from all the telescopic lenses turned towards the historic event.
The latest images come from the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) Telescope in Chile, operated by NOIRLab. The SOAR telescope is located in the foothills of the Andes, an arid environment with clear, lightless skies that makes the region ideal for ground-based telescopes.
Expansion dust trail from the collision is clearly visible, extending towards the right corner of the image. According to a Release of NOIRLab, the debris trail extends approximately 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) from the point of impact. Teddy Kareta, a Lowell Observatory astronomer who participated in the observation, said in the statement: “It’s amazing how clearly we were able to capture the structure and extent of the consequences in the days who followed the impact.”
NASA scientists have yet to decide on the success of DART, but the impact is a success in itself. Soon, more discoveries about the event will come: the exact amount of material from Didymos that was expelled, how much the material was pulverized and how fast it could be thrown. The data could shed important light on the effect kinetic impactors might have on “rubble heap” asteroids, which Dimorphos appears to be. The rubble-pile asteroids exhibit conglomerates of loosely bound surface material, which could explain these dramatic post-impact views of the moon.
Nearby in Chile, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory Sky Survey will start soon. Among his charges is the assessment of potentially dangerous objects near Earth, but given the recent test, perhaps asteroids should be our concern.
More: Ground-based telescopes capture breathtaking views of DART asteroid impact
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