When Asteroids Collide – Part II

P/2010 A2
Asteroid P/2010 A2
Image Credit: JPL / NASA

Previously, nssphoenix reported on the Hubble images of the comet / asteroid / debris trail pictured at left.

Now, the European Space Agency (ESA) reports that it’s comet chasing spacecraft Rosetta has imaged the same object as shown in the spectacular Hubble pictures.

Colin Snodgrass, at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, decided to investigate the object using the Rosetta spacecraft because it was far from Earth and could look at the object from a completely different perspective.

The Image below was taken by the OSIRIS camera aboard the Rosetta spacecraft in March of 2010. It enabled scientists to confirm that the object is not a comet. Rather, computer modeling shows that the debris field was created in a single event.

Rosetta Image
Rosetta Image of Asteroid P/2010 A2
Image Credit: ESA / MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Dr Snodgrass and colleagues have concluded that the collision that produced the debris field occurred within a ten day period around 10 February 2009, almost a year before its discovery.

“We are really quite confident about that date because of the quality of the data we used”.

Jessica Agarwal, a former ESA research fellow, and other researchers have used the Hubble Space Telescope to resolve a single remaining asteroid, about 120 meters across, at the head of the trail (see the white dot in the first image above). Using this information, Dr. Snodgrass and his colleagues estimate that the asteroid destroyed in the collision was probably only a few meters in diameter.

If we could get a closeup of the remaining asteroid, we would see a brand new crater on the surface.

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