CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The asteroid that was struck by a NASA spacecraft is now trailed 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 published at a National Science Foundation lab in Arizona.
The image shows a comet-like expanding tail more than 10,000 kilometers long, made up of dust and other material spewed from the impact crater.
LOOK: NASA DART spacecraft crashes into asteroid to test defense system
This plume is moving away from the harmless asteroid, largely due to pressure from solar radiation, said Matthew Knight of the US Naval Research Laboratory, who made the observation with Teddy Kareta of the Lowell Observatory in using the Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope.
Scientists expect the tail to grow even longer and spread out even more, becoming so tenuous at some point that it is undetectable.
“At this point, the material will be like any other dust floating around the solar system,” Knight said in an email Tuesday.
Further observations are planned to determine how much and what kind of material has been thrown from the 525-foot (160-meter) Dimorphos, a larger asteroid moon.
Launched nearly a year ago, NASA’s Dart spacecraft was destroyed in the head-on collision. The $325 million mission to divert an asteroid’s orbit was designed as a dress rehearsal for the day a killer rock heads our way. Dimorphos and its companion rock never posed a threat to Earth and still do not, according to NASA.