Thursday, November 7, 2013

Asteroid w/ 6 Comet-like Tails Seen for 1st Time

Astronomers viewing our solar system's asteroid belt with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have seen for the first time an asteroid with six comet-like tails of dust. Designated P/2013 P5, the asteroid resembles a rotating lawn sprinkler.

"We were literally dumbfounded when we saw it," said lead investigator David Jewitt of the University of California at Los Angeles. "Even more amazing, its tail structures change dramatically in just 13 days as it belches out dust. That also caught us by surprise. It's hard to believe we’re looking at an asteroid."

This NASA Hubble Space Telescope set of images reveals a never-before-seen set of six comet-like tails radiating from a body in the asteroid belt, designated P/2013 P5.
Jewitt leads a team whose research paper appears online in the Nov. 7 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

P/2013 P5 has been ejecting dust periodically for at least five months. Astronomers believe it is possible the asteroid's rotation rate increased to the point where its surface started flying apart. They do not believe the tails are the result of an impact with another asteroid because they have not seen a large quantity of dust blasted into space all at once.

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Source: NASA Science News.

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