This is what the asteroid that NASA flew a spacecraft directly into looks like now
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Featured Image Credit: @noirlabastro/Twitter
The asteroid that got whacked by a NASA spacecraft has taken on a very different look, as it’s now being trailed by thousands of miles of debris.
In case you missed it, on 26 September, NASA deliberately crashed its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft intentionally crashed into Dimorphos - an asteroid moonlet - in the first ever test of planetary defence.
Fast-forward to yesterday, and astronomers were able to capture an incredible image of how Dimorphos looks now using the Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope (SOAR) in Chile.
Check it out:
The image shows a lengthy comet-type trail, which stretches more than 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometres), and consists of dust and other material flung from the asteroid’s impact crater.
Experts believe the tail will get even longer and slowly disperse until it eventually becomes undetectable.
Matthew Knight of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, who made the observation along with Lowell Observatory’s Teddy Kareta, told the Associated Press: “At that point, the material will be like any other dust floating around the solar system.”
More observations are planned so scientists can determine how much and what kind of debris was hurled from the asteroid.
In a press release from NOIRLab, the organisation that controls the SOAR telescope, Kareta said: “It is amazing how clearly we were able to capture the structure and extent of the aftermath in the days following the impact.
“Now begins the next phase of work for the DART team as they analyse their data and observations by our team and other observers around the world who shared in studying this exciting event.
"We plan to use SOAR to monitor the ejecta in the coming weeks and months. The combination of SOAR and AEON is just what we need for efficient follow-up of evolving events like this one.”
NASA fired the DART at speeds of more than 24,000km/h as a world-first test to see if scientists can potentially stop cosmic objects from heading for Earth with disastrous impacts.
Speaking to reporters last week ahead of the mission, Lindley Johnson, a planetary defence officer for NASA, said: "This is an exciting time, not only for the agency, but in space history and in the history of humankind quite frankly."
While the test did appear to be a bit like something out of Deep Impact, there was, of course, very sound scientific reasoning behind it.
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Planetary astronomer Andy Rivkin explained: "The point of a kinetic impactor is you ram your spacecraft into the asteroid you're worried about, and then you change its orbit around the sun by doing that."
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