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Astronomers spot strange six-tailed asteroid

Posted on Friday, 8 November, 2013 | Comment icon 18 comments

The object is believed to be a 'dying' asteroid. Image Credit: NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope has photographed an asteroid unlike anything ever seen before.

Described as "weird and freakish", the object designated P/2013 P5 is said to have left astronomers lost for words. With a rotation likened to that of a lawn sprinkler, the asteroid appears to have six tails, the first time such a phenomenon has ever been witnessed.

Originally spotted by the Pan-STARRS survey telescope in Hawaii, the object was observed more closely by the Hubble Space Telescope on September 10th. When the team photographed it again two weeks later however it had completely changed its appearance.

"We were literally dumbfounded when we saw it," said lead project investigator David Jewitt. "Even more amazing, its tail structures change dramatically in just 13 days as it belches out dust. That also caught us by surprise. It's hard to believe we're looking at an asteroid."

Astronomers believe that what is being observed is a 'dying' asteroid that's rotational force will eventually tear it apart, ejecting dust and rock out in to space until there is barely anything left.

Source: Independent | Comments (18)

Tags: Asteroid, Comet

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #9 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 8 November, 2013, 18:07
Not odd at all. Forward pointing tails are often seen with comets. Edited to add: is a wikipedia on forward pointing "antitails". Note that antitails are composed of dust, which is exactly what we are seeing with this asteroid.
Comment icon #10 Posted by ShortyStuff on 8 November, 2013, 19:17
This is a spaceship with its ionic thrusters out of control.
Comment icon #11 Posted by bison on 8 November, 2013, 19:24
The linked Wikipedia article says that the anti-tail of a comet appears to point directly toward the Sun. That does not seem to be the direction of the three tails to which I referred. Tails b. and c. seem to extend at about right angles to the direction of the Sun. Tail a. appears to point about 60 degree from the Sun on Sept. 10th, and around 30 degrees on the 23rd.
Comment icon #12 Posted by QuiteContrary on 8 November, 2013, 20:00
Okay, "Duh!" but I'll say it anyway. Very exciting discovery! And an interesting thread discussion.
Comment icon #13 Posted by Mentalcase on 8 November, 2013, 21:01
Bison, the trails are pointing in random directions based on the spin of the asteroid. It is spinning at a rather fast rate for the debris to be "spouting" away from it. The gravity would normally hold the matter.
Comment icon #14 Posted by bison on 8 November, 2013, 22:28
The object may be spinning rapidly enough to throw off dust from its equator. That is yet to be confirmed by observing the rate of spin and its orientation in space. The article in the original post said that: 'Radiation pressure from the Sun stretched the dust into streamers'. This suggests that the solar wind could play as important a part as centrifugal force. If dust was released in brief spurts, it is a reasonable scenario that the solar wind caught it and sent it outward in straight lines, the angle depending on the orientation of the object in its rotation at that particular ti... [More]
Comment icon #15 Posted by Sundew on 8 November, 2013, 22:41
Seems almost like a hybrid object somewhere between a comet and an asteroid. Generally you think of asteroids as being rock, makes you wonder how many might contain large quantities of water ice. Perhaps a resource for future travelers?
Comment icon #16 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 9 November, 2013, 19:02
No it doesn't. There is only dust in these tails, no plasma tail generated from water ice. It may have comet like tails but is is most definitely an asteroid.
Comment icon #17 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 9 November, 2013, 19:24
Bison you seem to be trying to generate a mystery where there is none. You are concentrating on one sentence taking it out of context and then failing to apply basic science. The sentence says: You then use this sentence out of context to leap to conclusions. Where does it say that "solar wind could play as important a part as centrifugal force"? Answer; it doesn't, that is pure invention from you. Now try thinking about what is going on in simple scientific terms. Dust particles are, in relation to the particles of the solar wind, massive. They will have inertia as the... [More]
Comment icon #18 Posted by qxcontinuum on 11 November, 2013, 6:24
Or trusters of a real space craft

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