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<Hubble Sees Suspected Asteroid Collision ⁄ >

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed a mysterious X-shaped debris pattern and trailing streamers of dust that suggest a head-on collision between two asteroids. Astronomers have long thought that the asteroid belt is being ground down through collisions, but such a smashup has never been seen before.

The object, called P/2010 A2, was discovered by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) sky survey on Jan. 6. At first, astronomers thought it might be a so-called "main belt comet"--a rare case of a comet orbiting in the asteroid belt. Follow-up images taken by Hubble on Jan. 25 and 29, however, revealed a complex X-pattern of filamentary structures near the nucleus:

"This is quite different from the smooth dust envelopes of normal comets," says principal investigator David Jewitt of the University of California at Los Angeles. "The filaments are made of dust and gravel, presumably recently thrown out of the nucleus. Some are swept back by radiation pressure from sunlight to create straight dust streaks. Embedded in the filaments are co-moving blobs of dust that likely originated from tiny unseen parent bodies."

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