NASA’s asteroid-smashing space debris spotted by Hubble telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope has snapped the results of smashing a spacecraft into the asteroid Dimorphous.

The asteroid Dimorphous, three months after it was hit by a spacecraft
NASA, ESA, David Jewitt (UCLA), and Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

Last year, NASA’s smashed a spacecraft into the asteroid Dimorphous. Now, the resulting debris has been captured in stunning detail by the Hubble Space Telescope, revealing a glittering field of small boulders.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) saw a 600-kilogram spacecraft impact Dimorphous, which orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos, to see if it could alter the space rock’s orbit as a practice run for future dangerous asteroids. The mission was a success, with the length of Dimorphous’ orbit reduced by about 33 minutes following an impact in September 2022.

A few months later, in December 2022, David Jewitt at the University of California at Los Angeles and his colleagues used the Hubble Space Telescope to learn more about the debris expelled by the collision. They found 37 large boulders, ranging in size from 1 to almost 7 metres across, seen as small sparkles of light on the picture above.

The rocks are likely to have been loosely tied to Dimorphous’ surface, rather than shards of rocks from the body of the asteroid itself. They are also moving relatively slowly relative to Dimorphous — at around 0.8 kilometres per hour — and their total mass is around 0.1 per cent of their parent.

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