LOS ANGELES, Oct. 13 (UPI) — A celestial object spotted by U.S. astronomers looked to them like a comet, long bright tail and all, but it was in an orbit no comet could have, they say.
It was discovered in the innermost part of the solar system’s asteroid belt, and scientists have determined that’s what it is — an asteroid, but unlike any they’ve seen before, ScienceNews.org reported.
The 75-mile-wide asteroid dubbed P/2010 A2 is the remnant of a larger space rock that was smacked by a smaller asteroid in the crowded asteroid belt, vaporizing the smaller body and creating a trail of debris initially mistaken as a comet’s tail, researchers say.
Images from the Hubble telescope show P/2010 A2 is trailed by a dense X-shaped pattern of debris that streams out into a long diffuse tail.
The observations “open the door to the empirical study of the way asteroids die,” David Jewitt of UCLA, the lead author of the Hubble study, said.
“Now that we have seen the first example” of a fresh asteroid collision, he said, “others are sure to follow.”
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