Feeds

High-speed asteroid pile-up prompts X-File

Astronomers probe 'peculiar' object

Intelligent flash storage arrays

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured the aftermath of just what happens when two asteroids collide at 11,000 mph (17,702 km/h), prompting an explosion "as powerful as the detonation of a small atomic bomb".

The result is a "peculiar" object - dubbed P/2010 A2 - which boasts a comet-like debris trail behind a mysterious X-shaped formation.

Hubble image of P/2010 A2, as seen by Hubble. Pic: NASA

The asteroid belt pile-up happened in early 2009, according to NASA, but it wasn't until January this year that the Lincoln Near-Earth Research (LINEAR) Program Sky Survey spotted the tail.

Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 observations indicate a surviving 400-foot-wide (122m-wide) object, which was hit by a smaller body, "perhaps 10 to 15 feet wide" (3 to 4m). The latter was vapourised in the blast, and its remains and material thrown off from the former were swept into a tail by solar radiation.

Astronomers are keen to find out just how much dust such high-speed encounters eject into interplanetary space, and while they reckon that "modest-sized asteroids smash into each other about once a year", they're difficult to spot.

But P/2010 A2 doesn't conform to the scientists' predictions. David Jewitt, of the University of California in Los Angeles, said: "We expected the debris field to expand dramatically, like shrapnel flying from a hand grenade. But what happened was quite the opposite. We found that the object is expanding very, very slowly."

The X shape, meanwhile, has the boffins stumped. NASA says: "The crisscrossed filaments at the head of the tail suggest that the colliding asteroids were not perfectly symmetrical. Material ejected from the impact, therefore, did not make a symmetrical pattern, a bit like the ragged splash made by throwing a rock into a lake. Larger particles in the X disperse very slowly and give this structure its longevity."

Jewitt and colleagues plan to turn Hubble's attention back to P/2010 A2 next year, in order to "see how far the dust has been swept back by the sun's radiation and how the mysterious X-shaped structure has evolved".

The P/2010 A2 findings are published in the 14 October edition of Nature. NASA has more here. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.