Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Recent collision in the asteroid belt?

This dust trail was imaged by the LINEAR (Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research) survey on January 6. The trail is named P/2010 A2, and the arrows point to a faint 200 meter object that is the likely source of this dust. Ordinarily, dusty streaks such as this are comet tails, which form when as the comet's icy surface sublimates (melts). That process also liberates small dust grains from the comet's surface. Pressure due to sunlight then sweeps that dust cloud out into a long tail. Comets are known to inhabit the asteroid belt, but only in the outer part. But this dust trail lies in the inner asteroid belt, where comets are not known to reside. So the current thinking is that this trail, which might only be weeks old, could instead be debris from a recent collision between two asteroids. So this picture could be the first view of the aftermath of a never-before-seen astronomical event---the collision between two asteroids. See this New Scientist article for more details.

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