Tuesday, March 19, 2024

The SOAR Telescope: A Southern Celestial Wayfinder in Chile

The SOAR Telescope: A Southern Celestial Wayfinder in Chile

The stars are perfectly aligned in this image of the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) Telescope, located on Cerro Pachón in Chile and operated by Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), a Program of the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab. The Milky Way galaxy appears to be pouring out of the open dome and spilling across the colorful sky. The wash of yellow and green near the horizon is a mix of airglow and light pollution from nearby villages. Where the two colors transition, the Large Magellanic Cloud and Small Magellanic Cloud shine through (lower left). However, near the center of this image is a truly notable grouping: the constellation Crux. Also known as the Southern Cross, it is discoverable by its red star (the top of the cross) and three nearby blue stars that form a cross shape. This grouping of stars has been a beacon for both European and Pacific Islander navigators for centuries. Its navigational use is akin to Polaris, but instead of directing people to the North Pole, Crux points—roughly—towards the South Pole.

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft intentionally crashed into Dimorphos, the asteroid moonlet in the double-asteroid system of Didymos on September 26, 2022. This was the first planetary defense test in which an impact of a spacecraft attempted to modify the orbit of an asteroid. The SOAR Telescope imaged the more than 10,000 kilometers long trail of debris blasted from the surface of Dimorphos two days after the impact. These observations are allowing scientists to gain knowledge about the nature of the surface of Dimorphos, how much material was ejected by the collision, how fast it was ejected, and the distribution of particle sizes in the expanding dust cloud—for example, whether the impact caused the moonlet to throw off big chunks of material or mostly fine dust. Analyzing this information will help scientists protect Earth and its inhabitants by better understanding the amount and nature of the ejecta resulting from an impact, and how that might modify an asteroid’s orbit.

This gigantic 900-megapixel photo was taken as part of the NOIRLab 2022 Photo Expedition to all the NOIRLab sites. Tomas Slovinský, the photographer, is a NOIRLab Audiovisual Ambassador.

Image Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/T. Slovinský

Release Date: March 13, 2024

#NASA #Space #Astronomy #Science #Earth #SOARTelescope #CerroPachón #Chile #Airglow #Stars #Crux #Constellation #MilkyWayGalaxy #SMC #LMC #Galaxies #DARTMission #Asteroids #Dimorphos #Didymos #PlanetaryDefense #SolarSystem #JHUAPL #NOIRLab #AURA #NSF #UnitedStates #STEM #Education

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