Science & Technology

Hubble Space Telescope Captures Movie of DART Asteroid Impact Debris

Hubble captures the debris from the DART impact being swept back into a comet-like tail by the pressure of sunlight on the tiny dust particles. This stretches out into a debris train where the lightest particles travel the fastest and farthest from the asteroid. The mystery is compounded when Hubble records the tail splitting in two for a few days. Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Li (PSI)

This movie captures the breakup of the asteroid Dimorphos when it was deliberately hit by NASA’s 545-kilogram Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission spacecraft on 26 September 2022. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope had a ringside view of the space demolition derby.

The Hubble movie starts at 1.3 hours before impact. The first post-impact snapshot is 20 minutes after the event. Debris flies away from the asteroid in straight lines, moving faster than four miles per hour (fast enough to escape the asteroid’s gravitational pull, so it does not fall back onto the asteroid). The ejecta forms a largely hollow cone with long, stringy filaments.

At about 17 hours after the impact the debris pattern entered a second stage. The dynamic interaction within the binary system started to distort the cone shape of the ejecta pattern. The most prominent structures are rotating, pinwheel-shaped features. The pinwheel is tied to the gravitational pull of the companion asteroid, Didymos.

Hubble next captures the debris being swept back into a comet-like tail by the pressure of sunlight on the tiny dust particles. This stretches out into a debris train where the lightest particles travel the fastest and farthest from the asteroid. The mystery is compounded later when Hubble records the tail splitting in two for a few days.

These three panels capture the breakup of the asteroid Dimorphos when it was deliberately hit by NASA’s 545-kilogram Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission spacecraft on September 26, 2022. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope had a ringside view of the space demolition derby. The top panel, taken 2 hours after impact, shows an ejecta cone amounting to an estimated 900 000 kilograms of dust.
The center frame shows the dynamic interaction within the asteroid’s binary system that starts to distort the cone shape of the ejecta pattern about 17 hours after the impact. The most prominent structures are rotating, pinwheel-shaped features. The pinwheel is tied to the gravitational pull of the companion asteroid, Didymos.
In the bottom frame, Hubble next captures the debris being swept back into a comet-like tail by the pressure of sunlight on the tiny dust particles. This stretches out into a debris train where the lightest particles travel the fastest and farthest from the asteroid. The mystery is compounded when Hubble records the tail splitting in two for a few days.
Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Li (PSI)

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