NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has recorded the never-before-seen break-up of an asteroid into as many as 10 smaller pieces.
Fragile comets, comprised of ice and dust, have been seen falling apart as they near the sun, but nothing like this has ever before been observed in the asteroid belt.
“This is a rock, and seeing it fall apart before our eyes is pretty amazing,” said David Jewitt of the University of California at Los Angeles, who led the astronomical forensics investigation.
The crumbling asteroid, designated P/2013 R3, was first noticed as an unusual, fuzzy-looking object by the Catalina and Pan STARRS sky surveys on Sept. 15, 2013. A follow-up observation on October 1 with the W. M. Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii, revealed three bodies moving together in an envelope of dust nearly the diameter of Earth. (via NASA’s Hubble Telescope Witnesses Asteroid’s Mysterious Disintegration | NASA)