Immense Trail of Debris From DART Collision With Asteroid Dimorphos Captured by SOAR Telescope

Immense Trail of Debris From DART Collision With Asteroid Dimorphos Captured by SOAR Telescope
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The SOAR Telescope in Chile imaged the more than 10,000 kilometers long trail of debris blasted from the surface of Dimorphos two days after the asteroid was impacted by 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 grasp the structure and scope of the consequences in the days after 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 NSF’s NOIRLab’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Within this new picture, the dust trail — the ejection which was repelled by the pressure of solar radiation, Comet-like tail – extends from the centre to the right edge of the field of vision, which is approximately 3.1 minutes of arc to fly using the high-speed goodman spectrograph. At the distance of didymos from the earth at the time of observation, this would result in at least 6000 miles (10000 km) of the point of impact.

An artist's representation of NASA's probe flying to twin, didymo and dimorphos asteroids. The biggest asteroid, the didymos, was found by the University of Arizona space watch in 1996. Source: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (NASA).

“It is amazing how clearly we understood the structure and extent of the consequences in the days that followed the impact," Kareta said.

The next phase of work of the dart team will now begin as they analyze their data and observations by our team and other international observers who participated in the study of this exciting event," said Mr. Knight. We expect to use Soar to monitor the eject over the next few weeks and months. The combination of SOAR and AEON[2] is just what we need for efficient follow-up of evolving events like this one.”

The findings will give researchers a better understanding of the nature of Dimorphos's surface. They can assess the amount of material that was ejected from the collision, the speed at which it was ejected, and the distribution of particle sizes in the expanding dust cloud. For example, the observations will reveal if the impact caused the moonlet to shed large pieces of equipment or especially fine dust. Analysis of this data will help astronomers protect the Earth and its people by better understanding the quantity and nature of the eject resulting from an impact, and how it could change the orbit of an asteroid.

The observations of soar show the capacities of the aura installations without funding in the planning and the initiatives of planetary defense. Going forward, The Vera Rubin Observatory, financed by nsf and the United States Department of Energy and currently being built in Chile, perform a solar system survey to look for potentially hazardous objects. 

Didymos was discovered in 1996 with the University of Arizona 0.9-meter Spacewatch Telescope located at Kitt Peak National Observatory, a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab.


  1. SOAR is designed to produce the best quality pictures from any observatory of its category. On the cerro pachon, soar is a collaborative project of the Ministry of Education, tecnologia e inovacoes do brasil (mcti/lna), nsf’s noirlab, North Carolina University to the Chapel Hill (unc), University of Michigan (msu).
  2. The network of astronomical event observatories (aeon) is an ecosystem of facilities allowing an accessible and effective monitoring of astronomical transients and the science of the temporal domain. In the middle of the network, noirlab, with its 4.1 meter telescopes and 8 meter gemini (and soon the winner m. 4 meter white optic telescope), has joined forces with the observatory of las cumbres to construct such a network for the era of vera c. rubin observatory space and time legacy (lsst). Soar is the guidance system used to integrate 4-metre and 8-metre telescopes into aeon.

More information

NSF’s NOIRLab, the American Center for Optical Infrared Astronomy on the ground, is the operator of the Gemini International Observatory (an NSF facility, NRC–Canada, ANID–Chile, MCTIC–Brazil, MINCyT–Argentina, Republic of Korea & KASI), Kitt Peak National Monitoring Centre (KPNO), Inter-American Cerro Tololo Observatory (IATTC), Community Science and Information Center (CSDC), and the Vera C. Rubin Observatory (operated in collaboration with the National Laboratory for SLAC Accelerators of the Department of Energy). It is run by the association of universities for research in astronomy (aura) within the framework of a cooperation agreement with nsf and is based in tucson, Arizona. The astronomical community is honored to have the chance to conduct astronomical research on iolkam du'ag (kitt pic) in arizona, on Hawaii's maunakea, and on the cerro tololo and the cerro pachon of Chile. We recognize the cultural importance of these sites and their respect for the Tohono O'odham Nation, for the indigenous community of Hawaii, and local communities throughout Chile, respectively.