Asteroid Gets Hit Then Grows Tail

Courtesy of Glenn Beltz (Flickr CC0)

Known Asteroid Info

A few days after NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft, also know as DART, crashed into the asteroid Dimorphos, the asteroid grew a “tail” consisting of glowing debris that spanned over miles long  images depicting the event were posted.

DART, the first mission intended to investigate if such a collision could redirect a hypothetical asteroid threatening to reach Earth. Intentionally it  collided with Dimorphous, a component of a binary asteroid system, blasting dust and debris from the surface. Astronomers Teddy Kareta from the Lowell Observatory and Matthew Knight from the U.S. Naval Academy used the 4.1-meter Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) Telescope at the NOIRLab-funded Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile to capture images of Dimorphous’ new tail.

In a statement, Kareta said: “It is astounding how vividly we were able to record the structure. As well as scope of the aftermath in the days following the hit”.

Courtesy of Mat Hampson (Flickr CC0)

By observing the material that ejected could help scientists understand Dimorphos’ surface. The observation should show how much material was released during the collision with DART. It should also demonstrate how fast it got propelled, and the size of the particles that got ejected.  A better understanding of asteroid shape and composition helps scientists calculate how to effectively divert them. This knowledge could ultimately assist space agencies like NASA defend Earth from asteroid strikes.

DART’S Collision

When DART collided with Dimorphos on September 26, material that is now in the dust trail was first expelled and formed a cloud surrounding the asteroid. Just as comet tails do when they approach the sun from the outer regions of the solar system, the tail-like shape developed when radiation pressure from the sun pushed the debris out from the asteroid’s body.

The new feature of Dimorphos may can get viewed in the SOAR image. The image spans from the image’s center to the right edge. The length of the tail was determined by astronomers. They used the distance of Dimorphos from Earth at the time the image was taken, which was 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometers). (Scientists calculated that Dimorphos itself was roughly 525 feet, or 160 meters, wide, prior to the hit.)

In order to better understand how successful this attempt to alter an asteroid’s orbit has been, researchers will use the data collected by SOAR as they continue to monitor the effects of the DART collision. The Astronomical Event Observatory Network (AEON) of telescopes, ,committed to pursuing reports of novel astronomical events, includes SOAR as a crucial member.

As the DART team analyzes their data and observations from our team and other observers across the world who shared in studying this fascinating event, Knight stated, “Now comes the next phase of work for the DART team.” “In the upcoming weeks and months, we intend to use SOAR to keep an eye on the ejecta. For effective follow-up of changing situations like this one, SOAR and AEON together are exactly what we need.”

Time & Dates

On Nov. 23, 2021, at 10:20 p.m. local time (1:20 a.m. EDT, or 6:20 a.m. GMT, Nov. 24, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket used to launch the DART mission from Space Launch Complex 4. Located at the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The mission serves as an example of the intense level of international cooperation required for such a challenging task. Although the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) oversees the DART project, scientists and engineers from all across the world have teamed together to participate.

According to Ellen Howell, a senior research scientist at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and a co-investigator for DART. “We’ve worked pretty closely with our European colleagues and colleagues all around the world.” Although DART is a test, she noted that in the event of a real impact, a comparable level of international cooperation would be crucial.

Written By Lance Santoyo


CNN: Comet-like debris trail spotted after spacecraft crashes into asteroid.

Space: DART impact gave asteroid Dimorphos a debris tail thousands of miles long (stunning photo.)

Space: NASA’s DART asteroid-smashing mission: The ultimate guide.

NASA: DART’s Penultimate View.

Sky News: Dimorphos asteroid being trailed by 6,000 miles of debris after impact by NASA’s DART spacecraft.

Featured Image Courtesy of Glenn Beltz Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Inset Image Courtesy of Mat Hampson Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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