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Asteroid Struck by NASA Probe Leaves Long Trail

Asteroid struck by Nasa Probe
Asteroid Struck by NASA Probe Leaves Long Trail Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/SOAR/NSF/AURA/T. Kareta (Lowell Observatory), M. Knight (US Naval Academy)

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) probe deliberately struck an asteroid, leaving a trail of debris stretching out over ten thousand kilometers.

A new image captured by a telescope in Chile indicates a remarkable picture of a comet-like plume spreading behind the giant rock.

Last week on September 26th, NASA’s probe intentionally crashed into an asteroid to test whether asteroids that might threaten Earth can be nudged out of the way.

Scientists are working to establish whether the test was a success and if the asteroid’s path has been altered.

Two days after the collision, astronomers in Chile used the 4.1-meter Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope (SOAR) to capture the extraordinary image of a vast plume of dust and debris blasted from the surface of the asteroid.

Asteroid leaving at least 10,000 kilometer trail

Since the moment of impact, the asteroid has been observed stretching out for over at least ten thousand kilometers (6,200 miles), leaving behind a trail of debris and dispersing in the process. It is anticipated that it will get even longer until it completely disintegrates. At the moment, it actually looks like other inconspicuous space dust floating around.

Teddy Kareta, an astronomer involved in the observation said, “It is amazing how clearly we were able to capture the structure and extent of the aftermath in the days following the impact.”

Michael Knight of the US Naval Research Laboratory said the trail of debris from the asteroid would be monitored over the coming weeks and months.

“Now begins the next phase of work for the DART team as they analyze their data and observations by our team and other observers around the world who shared in studying this exciting event,” he added.

The $325 million (£240 million) DART science mission saw the probe deliberately smash into the asteroid, destroying the spacecraft in the process.

However, it will be some weeks before scientists know for sure whether the experiment has been successful. Meanwhile, they will be studying the changes to the orbit of Dimorphos around another asteroid called Didymos.

Telescopes on Earth will make precise measurements of the two-rock, binary system to validate the experiment.

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test a remarkable science mission

As scientists strive to ascertain the gravity of the recent asteroid smash, Dr. Lori Glaze, the director of planetary science at NASA, was convinced that something remarkable had been achieved by the mission.

“We’re embarking on a new era of humankind, an era in which we potentially have the capability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous hazardous asteroid impact,” she told reporters. “What an amazing thing; we’ve never had that capability before.”

DART is an acronym for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, designed to do “exactly what is says on the tin,” Dr. Andy Rivkin, lead investigator on the DART Mission told reporters.

Dr. Rivkin explained that the technique could be used if there were an asteroid heading for Earth at some point in the future. He described the concept as a “very simple idea”— ramming spacecraft into objects you are worried about and using the mass and speed of the craft “to slightly change the orbit of that object enough so that it would miss…Earth.”

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