Asteroid Dimorphos is tracked 6,000 miles by debris after impact by NASA’s DART spacecraft | Science and technology news


More than 6,000 miles of debris trail behind an asteroid deliberately hit by a NASA spacecraft.

The picture was taken two days later by a telescope in Chile last month’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).

It shows a trail of dust and other material from the impact of the spacecraft – which was about the size of a vending machine and weighed half a ton before hitting 15,000 mph.

The tail is accelerating away from the asteroid, largely due to pressure from solar radiation, said Matthew Knight of the US Naval Research Laboratory.

Mr. Knight and Teddy Kareta of Lowell Observatory made the observation with the Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope.

Experts believe the tail will continue to grow longer and more dispersed, eventually becoming undetectable to any other space dust.

The DART mission aimed to see if an asteroid’s orbit could be altered and was intended as a dress rehearsal should such an object ever threaten Earth.

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However, the targeted 160-meter asteroid Dimorphos was seven million miles from Earth and never a threat itself.

The impact on the asteroid is expected to be tiny – its speed is checked by just 0.4mm per second.

But over time, it should have a measurable impact on its orbit.

A number of land- and space-based telescopes, including NASA and ESA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, will study the asteroid to measure the outcome of the test.

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