Something rather bizarre was observed in the asteroid belt on January 6. Ray Villard at Discovery News has just posted an exciting article about the discovery of a comet… but it’s not your average, run-of-the-mill kinda comet. This comet appears to orbit the Sun, embedded in the asteroid belt.
Comets don’t usually do that, they tend to have elliptical and inclined orbits, orbits that carry them close to the Sun (when they start to heat up, creating an attractive cometary tail as volatile ices sublimate into space, producing a dusty vapor). They are then flung back out into the furthest reaches of the Solar System where the heating stops and the comet tail disappears until the next solar approach.
But P/2010 A2 — discovered by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) sky survey — has a circular orbit and it still appears to be venting something into space.
There is the possibility that it is a member of a very exclusive bunch of objects known as main belt comets (MBCs). MBCs are confused asteroid/comet hybrids that appear to spontaneously vent vapor and dust into space and yet stay confined to the asteroid belt. But, if P/2010 A2 is confirmed to be one of these, it will only be the fifth such object to be discovered.
So what else could it be? If the potential discovery of an MBC doesn’t excite you enough, it could be something else entirely: the dust produced by a hyper-velocity impact between two asteroids. If this is the case, it would be the first ever observation of an asteroid impact in the Solar System.
The asteroid belt isn’t the same asteroid belt you might see in science fiction; although there are countless rocky bodies in our asteroid belt, it is rare that these rocky bodies encounter each other. Space is very big, and although the density of asteroids in this region might be considered to be “high”, this is space we’re talking about, you can fly a spaceship through the region without having to worry that you’ll bump into something. The average distance between asteroids is huge, making it a very rare occurrence any two should hit. But given enough asteroids, and enough time, eventually asteroid collisions do happen. And in the case of P/2010 A2, we might have been lucky.
The chatter between comet/asteroid experts is increasing, and on one message board posting, Javier Licandro (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Spain) reports observing a secondary asteroid traveling with the cloud-like P/2010 A2.
“The asteroid moves in the same direction and at the same rate as the comet,” reports Licandro on The Minor Planet Mailing List. “In addition, the P/2010 A2 (LINEAR) image does not show any central condensation and looks like a ‘dust swarm’.”
“A short lived event, such as a collision, may have produced the observed dust ejecta.”
Therefore, this ‘comet’ may actually be the debris that was ejected after a collision between two asteroids. Although these are preliminary findings and it’s going to take some serious observing time to understand the true nature of P/2010 A2, it’s exciting to think that we may just have observed an incredibly rare event, 250 million miles away.
Source: Discovery News
17 thoughts on “Could P/2010 A2 be the First Ever Observation of an Asteroid Collision?”
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that would be amazing! I really want to see an asteriod collide with anything! lol as long as its close to the earth it should look amazing! or at least i hope it will
I'm interested to see what will happen with this in the future.
Which direction relative to the Sun is the tail pointing? That seems not to be mentioned by any of the news sources, yet it should be an important indicator about the nature of this observation.
what ? why does it coast so much to get in space ? why cant we fly up there slowly without the smoke of the space shuttle ?
Hello do you not see the light attached to the appendage month after month?? Why is this the only photo basically pushed to us?? There is now way this is a comet!!! Nothing to see here
These arent the droids were looking for”.
What a cool event to have happened the day after my son's birth. Are there any more pictures out there?
It must be an asteroid collision, i dont think a comet would last very long without the big elliptical orbit that you normally get. A comet would most likely vent its entire mass quite quickly if it was such a near sun orbit on a permanent basis.
has there been an update on P/2010 A2? new images? anything?
Gotta love the variety of information on your site! Going from reviews on the movie 2012 to actual scientific information? Way to keep things interesting!
It must be an asteroid collision, i dont think a comet would last very long without the big elliptical orbit that you normally get. A comet would most likely vent its entire mass quite quickly if it was such a near sun orbit on a permanent basis.Read more: http://www.astroengine.com/?p=7086#ixzz0vdtHGVeL
This is truly amazing! A new discovery indeed. I just hope the person who discovered this has the need facts to back up his claim. I think this one here isn't considered a comet yet, it must be proven though.
I think Earth would suffer such collisions someday. It’s like the movies but I think it is really a possibility. Such collisions drive other asteroids to get away from its normal path then leads towards earth.
Does this one indicate an alarm? I think this would not hit our orbit and if it does then we are doomed.
Asteroid Collisions is I believe a common happening in the outer space but I hope collisions won’t happen near earth coz it will be very scary if it happens here.