Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Freakish' asteroid discovered, resembles rotating lawn sprinkler

Date:
November 7, 2013
Source:
University of California - Los Angeles
Summary:
Astronomers report the discovery of a never-before-seen "weird and freakish object" in the asteroid belt that resembles a rotating lawn sprinkler.

Astronomers have discovered a "weird and freakish object" resembling a rotating lawn sprinkler in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Credit: NASA and ESA

Astronomers have discovered a "weird and freakish object" resembling a rotating lawn sprinkler in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The find, reported online in the Nov. 7 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters, has left them scratching their heads and searching for an explanation for the strange asteroid's out-of-this-world appearance.

Normal asteroids appear simply as tiny points of light. This bizarre asteroid has six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it like spokes on a wheel.

"It's hard to believe we're looking at an asteroid," said lead investigator David Jewitt, a professor in the UCLA Department of Earth and Space Sciences and the UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy. "We were dumbfounded when we saw it. Amazingly, its tail structures change dramatically in just 13 days as it belches out dust."

One interpretation is that the asteroid's rotation rate increased to the point where its surface started flying apart, ejecting dust in episodic eruptions, starting last spring. The team has ruled out a recent asteroid impact scenario because a large quantity of dust would have been blasted into space all at once. This object, designated P/2013 P5, has ejected dust for at least five months, Jewitt said.

The asteroid was first seen as an unusually fuzzy-looking object with the Pan-STARRS survey telescope in Hawaii. Its multiple tails were discovered in images taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope on Sept. 10, 2013. When Hubble returned to the asteroid on Sept. 23, its appearance had totally changed; it looked as if the entire structure had swung around.

"We were completely knocked out," said Jewitt.

The tails could have been formed by a series of "impulsive dust-ejection events," modeling by team member Jessica Agarwal revealed. Agarwal, of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Lindau, Germany, calculated that the first ejection event occurred on April 15 and the last one on Sept. 4. The intervening eruptions occurred on July 18, July 24, Aug. 8 and Aug. 26.

Radiation pressure from the sun smears out the dust into streamers. The asteroid could possibly have been spun up if the pressure of sunlight exerted a torque on the body, Jewitt said.

If its spin rate became fast enough, he said, the asteroid's weak gravity would no longer be able to hold it together. Dust might avalanche downslope toward the asteroid's equator and eventually drift into space to make a tail. So far, only a small fraction of the asteroid's main mass -- perhaps 100 to 1,000 tons of dust -- has been lost, Jewitt said. The 700-foot-radius nucleus is thousands of times more massive.

Follow-up observations may reveal whether the dust leaves the asteroid in the equatorial plane; if so, that would indicate a "rotational breakup," Jewitt said.

This must be a common phenomenon in the asteroid belt, Jewitt said, and may even be the main way in which small asteroids die.

"In astronomy, where you find one, you eventually find a whole bunch more," he said. "This is an amazing object and almost certainly the first of many more to come."

The object may be a piece from an asteroid collision that occurred roughly 200 million years ago, Jewitt noted. The resulting collision fragments, known as the Flora asteroid family, are still following similar orbits. Meteorites from these bodies show evidence of having been heated to as much as 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles. The original article was written by Ray Villard. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. David Jewitt, Jessica Agarwal, Harold Weaver, Max Mutchler, Stephen Larson. THE EXTRAORDINARY MULTI-TAILED MAIN-BELT COMET P/2013 P5. The Astrophysical Journal, 2013; 778 (1): L21 DOI: 10.1088/2041-8205/778/1/L21

Cite This Page:

University of California - Los Angeles. "'Freakish' asteroid discovered, resembles rotating lawn sprinkler." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131107123152.htm>.
University of California - Los Angeles. (2013, November 7). 'Freakish' asteroid discovered, resembles rotating lawn sprinkler. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131107123152.htm
University of California - Los Angeles. "'Freakish' asteroid discovered, resembles rotating lawn sprinkler." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131107123152.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

AFP (July 30, 2014) The European Space Agency's fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) is takes off to the International Space Station on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. Duration: 00:34 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

AP (July 30, 2014) Arianespace launched a rocket Tuesday from French Guiana carrying a robotic cargo ship to deliver provisions to the International Space Station. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

AP (July 30, 2014) Every summer, tourists make the pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island, Va. to see wild ponies cross the Assateague Channel. But, it's the rockets sending to supplies to the International Space Station that are making this a year-round destination. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

More Coverage


When Is a Comet Not a Comet?

Nov. 7, 2013 Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have observed a unique and baffling object in the asteroid belt that looks like a rotating lawn sprinkler or badminton shuttlecock. While this ... read more
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins