HomeTechnologyStruck asteroid debris trail over 6,000 miles long

Struck asteroid debris trail over 6,000 miles long


By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Staff Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The asteroid that was hit by a NASA spacecraft is now being followed by thousands of miles of debris from the impact.

Astronomers captured the scene millions of miles away with a telescope in Chile. Their remarkable observation two days after last month’s planetary defense test was recently released at a National Science Foundation lab in Arizona.

The image shows an expanding comet-like tail more than 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) long, consisting of dust and other material ejected from the impact crater.

This plume is accelerating away from the harmless asteroid in large part due to solar radiation pressure, said Matthew Knight of the US Naval Research Laboratory, who made the observation along with Teddy Kareta of Lowell Observatory using the Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope.

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Scientists expect the tail to lengthen further and spread out further, becoming so faint at one point that it is undetectable.

“At that point, the material will be like any other dust floating around the solar system,” Knight said in an email on Tuesday.

More observations are planned to determine how much and what kind of material was spewed from the 525-foot (160-meter) Dimorphos, a small moon of a larger asteroid.

Launched nearly a year ago, NASA’s Dart spacecraft was destroyed in the head-on collision. The $325 million mission to deflect an asteroid’s orbit was conceived as a dress rehearsal for the day a killer rock comes our way. Dimorphos and its companion rock never posed a threat to Earth and still don’t, according to NASA.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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