Hubble tracks the aftermath of a possible asteroid collision


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Using the Hubble Space Telescope over the last ten months, astronomers have tracked the decaying aftermath of a possible asteroid collision. Key quote:

Astronomers think a smaller rock, perhaps 10 to 15 feet wide, slammed into the larger one. The pair probably collided at high speed, about 11,000 mph, which smashed and vaporized the small asteroid and stripped material from the larger one. Jewitt estimates that the violent encounter happened in February or March 2009 and was as powerful as the detonation of a small atomic bomb.

The image sequence below, taken from the original paper describing the discovery [pdf], shows the slow changes that have occurred since January. At the moment scientists do not have an satisfactory explanation for the nucleus’s X-shaped pattern in the earliest images.

sequence of images of disrupted asteroid

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