Feeds

High-speed asteroid pile-up prompts X-File

Astronomers probe 'peculiar' object

Boost IT visibility and business value

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. ®

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

More from The Register

next story
LOHAN packs bags for SPACEPORT AMERICA!
Spanish launch goes titsup, we're off to the US of A
BAT-GOBBLING urban SPIDER QUEENS swell to ENORMOUS SIZE
But they'd lose a deathmatch against the coming Humvee-sized, armoured Arctic ones
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
TRANSMUTATION claims US LENR company
Ten points of stuff out of a five pound bag
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
BYOD's dark side: Data protection
An endpoint data protection solution that adds value to the user and the organization so it can protect itself from data loss as well as leverage corporate data.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
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?