Hubble Space Telescope Sees Asteroid Break Up

For the first time NASA has been able to watch an asteroid break up in space. The destruction of the asteroid P/2013 R3 was witnessed and recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope. The break-up adds to the amazing series of fantastic images Hubble has  captured since its launch in 1990.The asteroid, which was moving in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, was about a kilometre in diameter .

The possible break-up of the asteroid was first noticed at ground stations on Earth. A cloud of dust about ten times the diameter of our Earth was noticed in Arizona and Hawaii. A close-up view made by  Hubble observed 10 smaller objects with dusty tails.

Scientists have ruled out the possibility that the asteroid may have collided with another object in space. For such a collision to have taken place the particles around it are moving much too slowly, about 1.6 km an hour.

Asteroids are made up of solid rock and normally do not break apart so quickly, especially if they are so far away from the sun. Some scientists, however, believe that a steady exposure to sunlight over a longer period of time may cause asteroids to rotate faster, thus causing a separation.

Most of the asteroid's debris will someday hit the sun, but parts of it may enter the Earth's atmosphere as meteors.

Asteroid breaking apart

Asteroid breaking apart, as seen by Hubble

 

Related Topics

 

Words

  • capture = here: to take a picture
  • closeup view = to zoom in on an object and take a picture of it
  • collide = crash into another object
  • debris = the pieces that are left after something has been destroyed
  • destruction = when something is destroyed and does not exist any more
  • diameter = a straight line from one side of a circle to the other
  • dust = very small bits of dirt
  • especially = above all
  • exposure = not protected
  • image = picture
  • launch = start
  • particle = very small bit of an object
  • rotate = to go around itself
  • rule out = to decide that something is not possible
  • solid = very hard
  • tail = the back part of an object that sticks out
  • thus = that is why
  • witness = to see something really happen