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NASA`s Hubble discovers dying asteroid

Last Updated: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 14:13

Washington: A mysterious object discovered by NASA`s Hubble Space Telescope in 2010 has been identified as a dying asteroid.

In 2010, astronomers using the Telescope observed a strange X-shaped debris pattern and trailing streamers of dust that suggested a head-on collision between two asteroids.

At first blush, the object founding soaring through the asteroid belt looked like a comet, most notably because of its long, well-formed tail.

But a follow-up investigation with the Hubble Space Telescope has revealed its true identity as an asteroid, albeit one of the most bizarre ever discovered.

Trailing the asteroid`s body is stream of particles and dust stretching more 1 million kilometers (621,371 miles) across the sky. That`s three times the distance of Earth to the moon.

It also has an odd, X-shaped debris field, which may be evidence that the object, known as Asteroid P/2010 A2, collided head-on with another asteroid in the not-too-distant past. Another theory is that A2 is breaking itself apart due to an unsustainable spin.

But astronomer Jayadev Rajagopal, with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, told Discovery News that though this one certainly looks like it`s a collision, there are many mechanisms that may explain it.

Rajagopal said at the American Astronomical Society conference in Indianapolis this week that they are watching the death of an asteroid.

Follow-up observations are under way to measure how much material is in A2`s tail, which presently is shaped like a tube. Eventually, the tail will widen and more closely resemble the dusty trails of comets that trigger meteor showers on Earth when the planet passes through the stream.

Discovered in January 2010, A2 has now completed one orbit around the sun under the watchful eyes of astronomers. How long it lasts will depend on the size of its particles and how fast they are moving.

And Rajagopal expect it to hang around for quite a while.


First Published: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 14:13

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