Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup

Hubble witnesses an asteroid disintegration for the very first time on film. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has photographed the never-before-seen breakup of the asteroid into as many as 10 smaller pieces. Though fragile comet nuclei have been seen falling apart as they near the Sun, nothing like this breakup has ever before been observed in the asteroid belt. The crumbling asteroid, designated P/2013 R3, was first noticed as an anomalous, fuzzy-looking object on Sept. 15, 2013, by the Catalina and Pan-STARRS sky surveys. A follow-up observation on October 1 with the W. M. Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii revealed three co-moving bodies embedded in a dusty envelope that is nearly the diameter of Earth. David Jewitt of UCLA led the astronomical forensics investigation. He said: "This is a rock. Seeing it fall apart before our eyes is pretty amazing. Keck showed us that this thing was worth looking at with Hubble." With its superior resolution, Hubble observations soon showed that there were really 10 embedded objects, each with comet-like dust tails. The four largest rocky fragments are up to 200 yards in radius, about twice the length of a football field. The Hubble data showed that the fragments are drifting away from each other at a leisurely one mile per hour -- slower than the speed of a strolling human. The asteroid began coming apart early last year, but new pieces continue to emerge in the most recent images. This makes it unlikely that the asteroid is disintegrating because of a collision with another asteroid, which would be instantaneous and violent by comparison to what has been observed. Some of the debris from such a high-velocity smashup would also be expected to travel much faster than observed. Nor is the asteroid coming unglued due to the pressure of interior ices warming and vaporizing. The asteroid is too cold for ices to significantly sublimate, and it has presumably maintained its nearly 300-million-mile distance from the Su - Friday 7th March 2014 (6 Pictures)


Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup 1

Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup
Photo credit: **Mandatory: David Jewitt UCLA**


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Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup 2

Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup
Photo credit: **Mandatory: David Jewitt UCLA**


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Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup 3

Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup
Photo credit: **Mandatory: David Jewitt UCLA**


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Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup 4

Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup
Photo credit: **Mandatory: David Jewitt UCLA**


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Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup 5

Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup
Photo credit: **Mandatory: David Jewitt UCLA**


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Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup 6

Hubble Witnesses Asteroid Breakup
Photo credit: **Mandatory: David Jewitt UCLA**


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