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Disintegrating Asteroid

Disintegrating Asteroid

C029/5723

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Credit

NASA, ESA, AND DAVID JEWITT (UCLA) / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY NASA, ESA, AND DAVID JEWITT (UCLA) / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has photographed the break-up of an asteroid, which has fragmented into as many as ten smaller pieces. Although fragile comet nuclei have been seen to fall apart as they approach the Sun, nothing like the breakup of this asteroid, P/2013 R3, has ever been observed before in the asteroid belt. The crumbling asteroid, designated P/2013 R3, was first noticed as an unusual, fuzzy-looking object on September 15, 2013 by the Catalina and Pan-STARRS sky surveys. Follow-up observations on 1 October with the Keck Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, revealed three co-moving bodies embedded in a dusty envelope that is nearly the diameter of Earth. Hubble observations soon showed that there were really ten distinct objects, each with comet-like dust tails. The four largest rocky fragments are up to 200 meters in radius.

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