Thursday, February 4, 2010

A "What's that?" caught by Hubble Telescope

Hubble telescope captures image of mysterious x-shaped object in space Is that a smashed comet or an X-Wing fighter?

Scientists are offering up their own theories as to what created the striking star-inspired image, which was captured by NASA's Hubble telescope in January.

"Two small and previously unknown asteroids recently collided, creating a shower of debris that is being swept back into a tail from the collision site by the pressure of sunlight," said principal investigator David Jewitt of the University of California at Los Angeles.

The object - dubbed “P/2010 A2” after it was discovered in early January by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program sky survey - has traits similar to a comet, but the x-shape appears disconnected from the tail.

"The filamentary appearance of P/2010 A2 is different from anything seen in Hubble images of normal comets," Jewitt said.

Sci-fi lovers may instead go for a more fantastical theory, believing it to be the "Last Starfighter" or, perhaps, a Kilrathi dreadnought from the Wing Commander video game.

Another take on the story:

X-shaped space object baffles astronomers An X-shaped object whizzing through space at 17,700km/h is believed to be the debris left behind after two asteroids collided.

Scientists believe the object — nicknamed P/2010 A2 — is from the same cluster of space rocks that killed off the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.

If the collision theory proves to be true it will be the first time the remnants of an asteroid smash have been seen by humankind — even though astronomers say collisions happen all the time.

The Hubble Space Telescope photographed P/2010 A2, which orbits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, earlier last week.

"What Hubble saw indicates that P/2010 A2 is unlike any object ever seen before," astrophysicist Dr Robert Nemiroff from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre told The Sun newspaper.

"At first glance, the object appears to have the tail of a comet ... close inspection, however, shows a 140m nucleus offset from the tail centre, very unusual structure near the nucleus, and no discernable gas in the tail."

Scientist David Jewitt from the University of California told Reuters: "The truth is we're still struggling to understand what this means."

Experts say the orbit of P/2010 A2 is related to a group of asteroids known as the "Flora family", which produced the same asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs.

NASA described the object as "comet-like" but pointed out it is different because there is no gas in its trail.

The object was travelling 144 million kilometres from earth.
And yet another telling:

Space UFO baffles boffins THIS amazing UFO has left scientists baffled — after boffins claimed it was NOT a comet streaking through space.

It was first spotted early last month so astronomers turned the Hubble telescope on it last week to get these close up images.

The object — named P/2010 A2 — is of a type never before seen by stargazers and orbits in a satellite belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Despite its tail they have ruled out it being a comet, as there is no gas in its trail.

The 140-metre nucleus is also offset from the centre of the tail and its structure is very unusual.

The most likely theory is that it is debris from a collision between two asteroids which were likely to have smashed together at a speed of 15,000 kilometres an hour, five times the speed of a rifle bullet.

The resulting collision would have released more energy than a nuclear bomb.


It is believed that pressure from sunlight then spread the debris out into a trail.

Dr Robert J Nemiroff, astrophysicist at Michigan Technological University and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said: "Future study of P/2010 A2 may better indicate the nature of the original collision and may help humanity better understand the early years of our Solar System, when many similar collisions occurred."

He added: "What is this strange object? First discovered on ground based LINEAR images on January 6, the object appeared unusual enough to investigate further with the Hubble Space Telescope last week.

"What Hubble saw indicates that P/2010 A2 is unlike any object ever seen before. At first glance, the object appears to have the tail of a comet.

"Close inspection, however, shows a 140-metre nucleus offset from the tail centre, very unusual structure near the nucleus, and no discernable gas in the tail.

"Knowing that the object orbits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, a preliminary hypothesis that appears to explain all of the known clues is that P/2010 A2 is the debris left over from a recent collision between two small asteroids.

"If true, the collision likely occurred at over 15,000 kilometres per hour, five times the speed of a rifle bullet, and liberated energy in excess of a nuclear bomb.

"Pressure from sunlight would then spread out the debris into a trailing tail."

The mysterious object was circling about 90million miles (144million km) away from Earth when it was spotted.

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Pep commented on another post, asking me to look into this story and give my take on it.

What is the unusual object now known as P/2010 A2?  My gut tells me it is not a natural phenomena but I also realize that, there are natural 'things' in this universe that we have yet to discover. 

How many X-shaped 'natural objects' have you ever seen?  The object in the photos does appear to be structured and I rather doubt it's a 'starfish'.

Not every strange and unusual object we see in the sky or space are alien craft.  Likewise, not everything seen is swamp gas, balloons, stars/planets, comets, the ISS or some black-ops military stealth aircraft.

There is definitely 'somethings' strange and unique, not-of-this-world... but of others.  Our scientists just haven't figured that out yet.  Or, maybe they have. 

It wouldn't be the first time we've been "left in the dark".

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