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Ejecta from the DART-produced active asteroid Dimorphos

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Some active asteroids have been proposed to be the result of impact events1. Because active asteroids are generally discovered serendipitously only after their tail formation, the process of the impact ejecta evolving into a tail has never been directly observed. NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission2, apart from having successfully changed the orbital period of Dimorphos3, demonstrated the activation process of an asteroid from an impact under precisely known impact conditions. Here we report the observations of the DART impact ejecta with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) from impact time T+15 minutes to T+18.5 days at spatial resolutions of ~2.1 km per pixel. Our observations reveal a complex evolution of ejecta, which is first dominated by the gravitational interaction between the Didymos binary system and the ejected dust and later by solar radiation pressure. The lowest-speed ejecta dispersed via a sustained tail that displayed a consistent morphology with previously observed asteroid tails thought to be produced by impact4,5. The ejecta evolution following DART’s controlled impact experiment thus provides a framework for understanding the fundamental mechanisms acting on asteroids disrupted by natural impact1,6.

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Correspondence to Jian-Yang Li.

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Supplementary Video

Animation of the HST image sequence of Dimorphos’s ejecta evolution. In all frames, north is up and east to the left, i.e., the same orientation as all figures in the article. All frames are displayed with the same logarithmic brightness scale.

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Li, JY., Hirabayashi, M., Farnham, T.L. et al. Ejecta from the DART-produced active asteroid Dimorphos. Nature (2023).

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