Published: Fri, September 22, 2017
Research | By Jo Caldwell

NASA's Hubble discovers a mysterious comet in Solar System

NASA's Hubble discovers a mysterious comet in Solar System

The asteroids were exhibiting all signs of a comet.

Hopefully more of these oddball icy asteroids will be spotted as technology improves, revealing more beauty and detail amid the rock-studded expanse that is the asteroid belt.

As the twin object drew closer to the Sun in September a year ago, the Hubble captured clear images of the binary asteroid's comet-like features. However, the images revealed that it was actually not one, but two asteroids of nearly the same mass and size, orbiting each other at a distance of 60 miles. Scientists said that the pair's orbital characteristics are different from all other known asteroid binaries.

The Hubble space telescope has unravelled the mystery of a odd asteroid which had also been classified as a comet - and which had puzzled astronomers. Astronomers have spotted two asteroids that orbiting each other just like love buds but exhibit features of a comet like a bright halo of material, called a coma, and a long tail of dust.

The active asteroid 300163 (also known as 2006 VW139) was discovered by Spacewatch in November 2006.

The pair of space rocks do not behave like anything earlier observed in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars.

The pictures of 288P are located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter explained that it was actually not a single object, but asteroids of nearly the same mass and size, orbiting each other at a distance of about 100 Km. Asteroid 300163 (2006 VW139) also features other qualities of a comet that includes high eccentric orbit, wide separation, and equal component size. This is breakthrough discovery because they orbit each other and the masses of the objects in such systems can be measured.

"The uniqueness of 288P is the combination [of factors]", said study researcher Jessica Agarwal, from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research.

The team estimates that 2006 VW139/288P has existed as a binary system only for about 5,000 years. The main belt- comets might help to understand the origin of water on the bone-dry surface of the planet. The most probable formation scenario is a breakup due to fast rotation. "After that, the two fragments may have been moved further apart by sublimation torques", the astronomer explained.

According to Agarwal, more observations will be needed to determine if there might be other similar objects in the night sky, or if this is a rarity.

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