A new image shows that an asteroid that was deliberately hit by NASA’s Dart spacecraft has left a trail of debris stretching for thousands of miles.
The probe hit the asteroid last week to test if these Earth-threatening space rocks can be removed from its path. Scientists are trying to determine if the test was successful and if the asteroid’s trajectory was altered.
A telescope in Chile captured an image of a comet-like plume scattering behind the asteroid. The photograph was taken two days after the collision using the Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope (Soar). The trail of debris stretches over 10,000 kilometers and is expected to grow longer until it disperses completely and resembles space dust.
“It’s amazing how clearly we were able to capture the structure and extent of the aftermath in the days following impact,” astronomer Teddy Kareta told the BBC.
The debris trail will be monitored over the coming weeks and months, according to Michael Knight of the US Naval Research Laboratory.
The Dart mission saw the probe deliberately collide with the asteroid, destroying the ship in the process. If successful, the technique could be used in the event that an asteroid heads towards Earth in the future. The idea will be to push the space rock with a spacecraft to change the asteroid’s orbit and spare the planet an impact.