Hubble Sees Asteroid Spouting Six Comet-Like Tails
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.
The asteroid was discovered as an unusually fuzzy-looking object with the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) survey telescope in Hawaii. The multiple tails were discovered in Hubble images taken on Sept. 10, 2013. When Hubble returned to the asteroid on Sept. 23, the asteroid's appearance had totally changed. It looked as if the entire structure had swung around.
One interpretation is that the asteroid's rotation rate has been increased to the point where dust is falling off the surface and escaping into space where the pressure of sunlight sweeps out fingerlike tails. According to this theory, the asteroid's spin has been accelerated by the gentle push of sunlight. The object, estimated to be no more than 1,400 feet across, has ejected dust for at least five months, based on analysis of the tail structure.
These visible-light, false-color images were taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA)
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Page Last Updated: November 7th, 2013
Page Editor: Rob Garner