June 23, 2024

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Massive trail of debris from the collision of DART with the asteroid Demorphos captured by the SOAR telescope

Massive trail of debris from the collision of DART with the asteroid Demorphos captured by the SOAR telescope

Astronomers using the SOAR telescope in Chile captured a massive plume of dust and debris emanating from the surface of the asteroid Demorphos by NASA’s DART spacecraft when it collided on Sept. The pressure of the sun’s radiation pushed it away, not unlike the comet’s tail – it extends from the center to the right edge of the field of view. Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/SOAR/NSF/AURA/T. Caretta (Lowell Observatory), M. Knight (US Naval Academy), Image processing: TA Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani & D. de. Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

SOAR telescope captures Dimorphos’ expanding comet-like tail after the DART effect

The SOAR telescope in Chile photographed a trail of debris more than 10,000 km long, scattered from the surface of Demorphos two days after the asteroid collided with it.[{” attribute=””>NASA’s DART spacecraft.

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft deliberately slammed into Dimorphos, the asteroid moonlet in the double-asteroid system of Didymos, on Monday, September 26, 2022. This was the first planetary defense test in which a spacecraft attempted to modify the orbit of an asteroid through kinetic impact.

“It is amazing how clearly we were able to capture the structure and extent of the aftermath in the days following the impact.” — Teddy Kareta

Two days after DART’s collision, astronomers Teddy Kareta (Lowell Observatory) and Matthew Knight (US Naval Academy) captured the vast plume of dust and debris blasted from the asteroid’s surface with the 4.1-meter Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) Telescope,[1] At the NSF’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. In this new image, the path of dust — the ejecta pushed away by the pressure of the Sun’s radiation, similar to a comet’s tail — can be seen extending from the center to the right edge of the field of view, which is about 3.1 arc minutes in SOAR using the Goodman High Throughput Spectrometer. At Didymus’ distance from Earth at the time of observation, this would translate to at least 6,000 miles (10,000 km) from the point of impact.

NASA's DART spacecraft heads toward Didymos and Demorphos

Artist’s representation of NASA’s DART spacecraft as it flies toward the twin asteroids, Didymos and Demorphos. The largest asteroid, Didymus, was discovered by Spacewatch at the University of Arizona in 1996. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

“It’s amazing how well we were able to capture the structure and the extent of the fallout in the days after the impact,” said Carita.

“The next phase of work for the DART team now begins as they analyze their data and observations by our team and other observers around the world who were involved in studying this exciting event,” said Knight. We plan to use SOAR to monitor ejaculation in the coming weeks and months. A combination of SOAR and AEON[2] It is just what we need to actively follow up on evolving events like this one.”

These observations will allow researchers to gain knowledge about the nature of the surface of Dimorphos. They will be able to measure how much material was ejected by the impact, how quickly it was ejected, and the particle size distribution in the expanding dust cloud. For example, observations will reveal whether the impact caused the moon to shed large bits of material or mostly fine dust. Analyzing this data will help astronomers protect Earth and its inhabitants by better understanding the amount and nature of projectiles from the impact, and how this could change the asteroid’s orbit.

SOAR observations demonstrate the capabilities of NSF-funded AURA facilities in planetary defense planning and initiatives. In the future, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, funded by the NSF and the US Department of Energy and currently under construction in Chile, will conduct a census of the solar system to search for potentially dangerous objects.

Didymus was Discover in 1996 with the University of Arizona’s 0.9m Space Observation Telescope located at Kit Peak National Observatory, a program of NSF NOIRLab.


  1. SOAR is designed to produce the best quality images of any observatory in its class. Located in Cerro Pachón, SOAR is a joint project of Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovações do Brasil (MCTI/LNA), NSF’s NOIRLab, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and Michigan State University (MSU).
  2. The Astronomical Events Observatory Network (AEON) is a facility ecosystem for easy and efficient monitoring of astronomical passages and time domain science. At the heart of the network, NOIRLab, with its 4.1 meter SOAR and Gemini 8 meter telescopes (and soon the 4 meter Victor M. Blanco telescope at CTIO), has teamed up with Las Cumbres Observatory to build such a network for the era of the Vera C Robin Observatory legacy survey era of space and time. (LSST). SOAR is the Pathfinder facility for integrating AEON’s 4 and 8 meter class telescopes.

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NSF’s NOIRLab, the American center for terrestrial optical infrared astronomy, operates the Gemini International Observatory (NSF-affiliated facility, NRC-Canada, ANID-Chile, MCTIC-Brazil, MINCyT-Argentina, and KASI- Republic of Korea), Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), Community and Data Science Center (CSDC), and Vera C. Rubin Observatory (working in conjunction with the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory). It is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with NSF and is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. The astronomical community is honored to have the opportunity to conduct astronomical research on Iolkam Du’ag (Kitt Peak) in Arizona, on Maunakea in Hawai’i, and on Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón in Chile. We recognize and acknowledge the extremely important and reverential cultural role that these sites have for the nation of Tohono O’odham, for the Native Hawaiian community, and for the local communities of Chile, respectively.

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