Washington, January 22 (ANI): Planetary scientists have suggested that a curious, comet-like object recently found in pictures from a ground-based telescope might actually be fallout from a high-speed asteroid collision.
According to a report in National Geographic News, if these suspicions are confirmed, the object would represent the first time astronomers have witnessed the immediate aftermath of such a cosmic smashup.
Dubbed P/2010 A2 (LINEAR), the fuzzy, tailed mystery object is about 210,000 kilometers to 305,000 kilometers long, stretching across part of our solar system's main asteroid belt.
The belt contains thousands of asteroids that orbit between Mars and Jupiter, some 402 million kilometers from Earth.
It's believed most comets come from the cold, distant reaches of the solar system and travel on long, elliptical orbits, which keep the icy bodies far from the sun most of the time.
As a comet nears the sun, heat turns the comet's volatile ices into gases, and solar radiation pushes on those gases to create a tail.
But the newfound object suddenly appeared within the warmer asteroid belt and may even have originated there, puzzling astronomers.
"We're still trying to really figure out what it is," said University of Arizona planetary scientist Jim Scotti, who is part of one of the teams observing the object from the Kitt Peak National Observatory outside Tucson.
The object's oddities have some astronomers, including Scotti, thinking that the bright "tail" is actually a debris field created just after a small asteroid had smashed into a larger one.
A 650-foot-wide (200-meter-wide) space rock apparently still sitting near the object's head could be one of the collision victims.
Odds are that the smaller impactor would have been only a few meters across, since asteroids of this size are far more common in the main belt.
"If a collision occured, it's most likely that the space rocks didn't meet head on," Scotti said.
Still, the impact speed could have ranged from 0.6 to 6 miles (1 to 10 kilometers) a second-fast enough to create a debris field visible from Earth. (ANI)