10,000 kilometer-long tail from asteroid Dimorphos. Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/SOAR/NSF/AURA/T. Kareta (Lowell Observatory), M. Knight (US Naval Academy).

10,000 Kilometer-Long “Tail” Appears From Asteroid After NASA’s DART Impact

After NASA successfully impacted a spacecraft into asteroid Dimorphos, ground-based telescope have spotted a comet-like tail over 10,000 kilometers long emerging from the asteroids surface.


After NASA’s DART spacecraft intentionally impacted the asteroid Dimorphos, a large column of dust and debris was shot from the surface. Now, researchers have spotted the massive trail of debris in space. Two days after NASA’s DART spacecraft struck Dimorphos’ surface, the SOAR Telescope operated by NOIRLab in Chile captured images of the more than 10,000 kilometers long trail of debris blasted from its surface. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft successfully managed to smash into the surface of asteroid Dimorphos, a space rock orbiting a much larger asteroid called Didymos. Dimorphos has a rough diameter of around 160 meters.

The collision successfully knocked Dimorphos off its initial orbit and reduced the time it takes to orbit the larger companion rock by around ten minutes. It was the first planetary defense test in which an asteroid’s orbit was modified by an impact from a spacecraft. Teddy Kareta (Lowell Observatory) and Matthew Knight (US Naval Academy) captured the vast plume of dust and debris blasted from the asteroid’s surface two days after its impact using the 4.1-meter Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) Telescope at NSF’s NOIRLab’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

The new photograph of the double asteroid system shows a stunning dust trail stretching from the center to the right-hand edge of the field of view. As you can see in the new photograph, the dust trail represents ejecta that has been pushed away by the Sun’s radiation pressure. As per astronomers, this industrial was calculated to be about 3.1 arcminutes using the Goodman High Throughput Spectrograph. Based on Didymos’ distance from Earth at the time of the observation, it means that the massive trail of dust we see is likely some 10,000 kilometers (6000 miles) away from the point of impact.


Kareta says that the clarity with which the aftermath of the impact was captured is amazing. “Now, the DART team will analyze the data they’ve collected and observations made by their team and other observers around the world,” Knight said. During the next few weeks and months, the researchers plan to monitor the ejecta using SOAR. This event is an excellent example of SOAR and AEON combining to provide efficient follow-up.

Scientists will use these observations to determine whether Dimorphos’ surface is rugged, how much material was ejected during the collision, and how fast the material was ejected. Scientists will also be able to determine whether the impact caused the moonlet to emit large chunks of material or mostly fine dust, for example. As scientists analyze this information, they will be able to better understand the amount and nature of the impact ejecta and how that may affect an asteroid’s orbit.

NSF-funded AURA facilities have been demonstrated to be capable of supporting planetary-defense planning and initiatives through SOAR’s observations. A Solar System census will be conducted by the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, which is currently under construction in Chile and is funded by the NSF and the US Department of Energy.  U. Arizona’s 0.9-meter Spacewatch Telescope, a program of the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, discovered Didymos in 1996.


The Hubble Space Telescope as well as the James Webb Space Telescope, turned their cameras towards the Didymos system shortly after DART impacted, snapping photographs of the historic event.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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