Smashing NASA Probe Sent Boulders Into Space

Images from the Hubble telescope revealed the aftermath of NASA\’s successful attempt to alter an asteroid\’s course last year. The DART probe, comparable in size to a fridge, collided with the rugby ball-shaped asteroid Dimorphos, about 11 million kilometers (6.8 million miles) from Earth in September.

The impact caused a significant shift in the asteroid\’s trajectory, a pioneering test of Earth\’s planetary defenses. The Hubble Space Telescope\’s recent images exposed that 37 boulders, ranging from one to seven meters (three to 22 feet) in size, were propelled into space as a result of the collision. These boulders constitute approximately two percent of the ones that were previously scattered on the loosely-connected asteroid\’s surface, as estimated by scientists in a new study.

This finding suggests that potential future missions aiming to divert life-threatening asteroids heading towards Earth might also dislodge boulders in our direction. However, there\’s no need for concern as these specific rocks pose no threat, slowly drifting away from Dimorphos at a mere kilometer per hour (roughly the pace of a giant tortoise).

The European Space Agency\’s Hera mission, scheduled to arrive at the asteroid in late 2026 to assess the impact\’s effects, will have the opportunity to observe the boulders. David Jewitt, a planetary scientist from the University of California at Los Angeles and lead author of the study, likened the boulder dispersal to a gradually expanding swarm of bees.

This remarkable observation by Hubble offers unprecedented insight into the consequences of colliding with an asteroid and witnessing ejected material. The boulders, being some of the faintest objects ever imaged within our solar system, shed light on the process of asteroid impact.

According to Jewitt, the boulders\’ dispersal indicates that DART created a crater approximately 50 meters (160 feet) wide on Dimorphos, which itself measures 170 meters across. Scientists intend to continue tracking the trajectory of the boulders to better understand how they were launched off the asteroid\’s surface.

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