The Hubble Space Telescope sees two ‘tails’ from the asteroid impact
A week or two after the NASA spacecraft hit the asteroid, scientists noticed something unexpected: The space rock had grown two tails.
Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission attacked a small an asteroid called Dimorphos on September 26 to test a potential protection technique Earth from an asteroid on a collision course with our planet. Within two days, the radiation pressure from the sun pushed the debris from the impact in the taillike a comet, about 10,000 kilometers long.
If the asteroid itself is the center of the clock, the DART came from 10 o’clock. The light lines at 1 o’clock, 7 o’clock, and 10 o’clock are not debris; these are diffraction spikes caused by Hubble’s optics. Two tails appear at 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock, according to a statement (opens in new tab) from the European Space Agency, a partner in the Hubble mission.
A second tail developed sometime between Oct. 2 and Oct. 8, NASA said in a statement. Hubble has observed the asteroid 18 times since impact.
Astronomers have seen the development of similar double tails comets, so the development isn’t a complete surprise. However, scientists are still not sure how the second tail formed, according to NASA.
The fact that Dimorphos lost enough material to form such a large tail reflects the severity of the impact. The main goal of the DART mission was to measure how much time the collision cut off Dimorphos’ orbit around a larger asteroid called Didymos. The mission was supposed to shorten the orbit, originally 11 hours and 55 minutes, by 73 seconds, although scientists had estimated before arrival that the change could be up to tens of minutes. Instead, the the orbit shortened by 32 minutesmission staff announced earlier this month.
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