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Asteroid Belt smash-up caught in the act?
DR EMILY BALDWIN
ASTRONOMY NOW
Posted: 20 January 2010


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An object discovered on 6 January in the Asteroid Belt appearing superficially like a comet, could turn out to be a rare collision of two asteroids.

Is it a comet or a pair of colliding asteroids? The mystery object was captured by Robert McMillan using the University of Arizona's 1.8 metre Spacewatch Telescope; image processing by Jim Scotti.

The object, known as P/2010 A2, was discovered by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) sky survey and occupies an orbit inside the main Asteroid Belt – not the typical location of comets, which swoop close to the Sun on long elliptical orbits. P/2010 A2 shares striking similarity to a comet, however, with a long tail of debris that appears to stream from a denser nucleus.

The tail of debris could instead be the tell-tale sign of an asteroid-asteroid collision, and would be the first time that such an event has unfolded in front of our eyes. Further supporting evidence for the collision theory comes from the observation of a nearby 200 metre-wide object that is moving in the same direction and with the same speed as the 'tail', and which may represent the largest fragment of one of the colliding asteroids.

The Asteroid Belt is littered with rocky bodies that show evidence for a violent history, but it is not certain how often major collisions take place. Over time, these collisions convert small asteroids into dust.

Continued observations, perhaps even with the Hubble Space Telescope, will shed more light on the ongoing event that is playing out in this region of the Asteroid Belt.

The Planets
From tiny Mercury to distant Neptune and Pluto, The Planets profiles each of the Solar System's members in depth, featuring the latest imagery from space missions. The tallest mountains, the deepest canyons, the strongest winds, raging atmospheric storms, terrain studded with craters and vast worlds of ice are just some of the sights you'll see on this 100-page tour of the planets.
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Hubble Reborn
Hubble Reborn takes the reader on a journey through the Universe with spectacular full-colour pictures of galaxies, nebulae, planets and stars as seen through Hubble's eyes, along the way telling the dramatic story of the space telescope, including interviews with key scientists and astronauts.
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3D Universe
Witness the most awesome sights of the Universe as they were meant to be seen in this 100-page extravaganza of planets, galaxies and star-scapes, all in 3D!
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