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Hubble snaps space conker bonk aftermath

'Comet like' dino-snuff astro lump bump sensation

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Pic The Hubble space telescope has snapped a pic believed to show the results of two dinosaur-biffing asteroids smacking into each other in a hypervelocity collision - faster than two cannon shells fired from supersonic jet fighters hitting one another head on*.

P/2010 A2 Hubble image. Credit: NASA

In space, nobody can hear you bonk

The hubble snap shows a space thingy called P/2010 A2, first picked up by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) sky survey project earlier this month. NASA describes it as "a comet-like object", but points out that it isn't like a regular comet - a chilly body plunging into the central solar system from its usual home out in the Oort cloud or Kuiper belt, and belching a long tail of hot innards due to the Sun's heat.

Rather, P/2010 A2 is thought to be from the asteroid belt, which harbours many such snowball-esque space lumpkins as well as its well-known flying boulders. NASA says:

The orbit of P/2010 A2 is consistent with membership in the Flora asteroid family, produced by collisional shattering more than 100 million years ago. One fragment of that ancient smashup may have struck Earth 65 million years ago, triggering a mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs.

This leaves open the possibility that the complex debris tail is the result of an impact between two bodies, rather than ice simply melting from a parent body.

"If this interpretation is correct, two small and previously unknown asteroids recently collided, creating a shower of debris that is being swept back into a tail from the collision site by the pressure of sunlight," adds UCLA space gubbins brainbox David Jewitt.

It's thought to be the first photo of a space asteroid prang ever taken, though boffins believe that such events have been occurring routinely more or less forever. ®

Bootnote

* NASA says:

Asteroid collisions are energetic, with an average impact speed of more than 11,000 miles per hour, or five times faster than a rifle bullet.

A Mig-25 Foxbat fighter can go at Mach 3.5, or roughly 2600 mph. A 30mm aircraft cannon shell** has a muzzle velocity of 1700-odd mph. Closing speed would thus be 8600mph, noticeably slower than the asteroid-bonk numbers.

Bootnote Bootnote

** We are aware that the Foxbat doesn't actually have a cannon. But if it did.

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