NASA’s DART asteroid impact test left a trail over 6,000 miles long

NASA’s successful asteroid impact test apparently created a nice mess. Astronomers using the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) Telescope in Chile captured an image that shows DART’s collision with Dimorphos left a trail of dust and other debris more than 6,000 miles long, the Associated Press reports. The spacecraft wasn’t solely responsible – rather, the sun’s radiation pressure pushed the material away, as would a comet’s tail.

The trail is likely to only get bigger, according to the researchers. It should eventually expand to the point where the dust stream is virtually indistinguishable from the usual particles floating around the solar system. NASA was not a headache for future probes and explorers. The space agency chose Dimorphos (a small moon of the asteroid Didymos) because the deliberate crash would not pose a threat to Earth.

Of course, the shoot was about more than just a dramatic snapshot. Scientists will use data collected with SOAR, the Astronomical Event Observatory Network and other observers to learn more about the collision and Dimorphos itself. They will determine the amount and speed of material ejected from the asteroid and whether DART produced large pieces of debris or “just” fine dust. These will help understand how spacecraft can alter an asteroid’s orbit and potentially enhance Earth’s defenses against wayward cosmic rocks.

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