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Contact: Stuart Wolpert
University of California - Los Angeles

Disintegration of an Asteroid


This series of Hubble Space Telescope images reveals the breakup of an asteroid over a period of several months in late 2013.

The largest fragments are up to 200 yards in radius, each with "tails" caused by dust lifted from their surfaces and pushed back by the pressure of sunlight. The 10 pieces of the asteroid drift apart slowly and show a range of breakup times, suggesting that the disintegration cannot be explained by a collision with another asteroid.

One idea for the breakup is that the asteroid was accelerated by sunlight to spin at a fast enough rate to fly apart by centrifugal force. The images were taken in visible light with Hubble's Wide-Field Camera 3.

Credit: NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt/UCLA

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