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Is it a comet? Is it asteroid? ‘Freakish’ six-tail space rock discovered by NASA

Is it a comet? Is it asteroid? ‘Freakish’ six-tail space rock discovered by NASA


A startling and never yet seen “weird and freakish object” with six tails has been captured by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in our solar system’s asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Scientists were “literally dumbfounded” as they were trying to find an adequate explanation for out-of-this-world appearance of this “weird and freakish object,” said the lead investigator of the University of California at Los Angeles, David Jewitt, in NASA’s press-release.

While normal asteroids appear as tiny points of light, the designated P/2013 P5 has six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it.

“Even more amazing, its tail structures changed dramatically in just 13 days as it belches out dust. That also caught us by surprise. It's hard to believe we're looking at an asteroid.”

Asteroids are remnants of disrupted planet formation located in the belt between Mars and Jupiter. These solid objects that could have become planets but the process was interrupted by the gravitational pull of Jupiter. Asteroids differ from comets as they are found closer to the sun and do not produce a temporary atmosphere. As for comets, they are characterized as relatively small, at times active, objects whose ices can vaporize in sunlight forming a visible atmosphere around it called a ‘coma’ or a ‘tail.’

The research team believes that the asteroid is rotating so much that its surface is flying apart ejecting dust in episodic eruptions that form the visible tails and make it look like a comet.

“If the asteroid's spin rate became fast enough the asteroid's weak gravity would no longer be able to hold it together. Dust might avalanche downslope towards the equator, and maybe shatter and fall off, eventually drifting into space to make a tail,” Jewitt said.

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