Skip to main content

New asteroid that 'belches out dust' discovered

By Sara Ganim, CNN
updated 2:19 PM EST, Fri November 8, 2013
This graphic shows the path Asteroid 2014 RC will take as it passes Earth on Sunday, September 7. The space rock will come within one-tenth the distance from Earth to the moon, but it is not expected to threaten the planet. This graphic shows the path Asteroid 2014 RC will take as it passes Earth on Sunday, September 7. The space rock will come within one-tenth the distance from Earth to the moon, but it is not expected to threaten the planet.
HIDE CAPTION
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
All about asteroids
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Hubble Space Telescope focuses on object in the solar system's asteroid belt
  • Astronomers discover it is an "asteroid with six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it"
  • "We were literally dumbfounded when we saw it," an astronomer says
  • One theory is that this is what happens to asteroids before they die

(CNN) -- What's that in the sky? Is it an asteroid? A comet? A lawn sprinkler?

Turns out a newly discovered object is a little bit of all three -- minus the fact that you won't find many green lawns millions of miles from Earth -- NASA announced Friday.

"We were literally dumbfounded when we saw it," David Jewitt, who leads the team exploring the "asteroid with six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it like spokes on a wheel."

"It" is P/2013 P5, which NASA described as an "unusually fuzzy-looking object" when it was spotted in August in our solar system's asteroid belt.

The Hubble Space Telescope then focused on it, photographing it first in early September and then again 13 days later. By then, it looked completely different -- as if it had done a 180-degree flip, NASA said.

"Its tail structures change dramatically ... as it belches out dust," Jewitt, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, said in a news release. "That also caught us by surprise. It's hard to believe we're looking at an asteroid."

Satellite falling to Earth

The first-of-its-kind discovery "completely knocked out" astounded astronomers, he added. Perhaps just as exciting is the expectation that this "amazing object (is) almost certainly the first of many to come."

As Jewitt said: "In astronomy, where you find one, you eventually find a whole bunch more."

The giant rock is about 1,400 feet wide and probably reaches surface temperatures of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. For that reason, NASA thinks it's made of rock and not ice, like a typical comet is.

Tens of billions of planets out there are like Earth

The streams of dust were ejected six times between April and September -- something that the NASA team members believe might have been caused by the asteroid spinning so fast that its surface, at times, broke apart.

NASA is still watching P/2013 P5 -- which Jewitt says apparently is a fragment of a bigger asteroid that broke off approximately 200 million years ago -- to figure out exactly why it's doing what it's doing. One theory is that this is one way that asteroids die.

The full findings were published on November 7 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Big asteroid past Earth and will again in 19 years

CNN's Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Space
updated 5:20 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Scientists believe that a hot gas bubble was formed by multiple supernovas.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robonaut is the next generation dexterous robot
Life aboard the International Space Station.
updated 9:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
NASA's New Horizons mission hurtles toward Pluto in historic 3 billion mile expedition.
updated 4:44 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
Rosetta spacecraft arrives at its destination, Comet 67P after a 10-year journey around the solar system.
After a 10-year chase the Rosetta spacecraft is now orbiting a comet
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
"Here comes the sun" indeed, and it was just barely all right.
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Seems NASA's fascination with the moon is in the past. It's focused on something far more menacing: incoming asteroids
updated 11:56 PM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Scientists looking for signs of life in the universe -- as well as another planet like our own -- are a lot closer to their goal than people realize.
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
The U.S. Army brainchild "Project Horizon" was born. Its proposal to leap beyond the Soviets opened with the line: "There is a requirement for a manned military outpost on the moon."
updated 3:36 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Back in July 1969, I stood on the talcum-like lunar dust just a few feet from our home away from home, Eagle, the lunar module that transported Neil Armstrong and me to the bleak, crater-pocked moonscape.
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
solar flare july 2014
From Earth, the sun appears as a constant circle of light, but when viewed in space a brilliant display of motion is revealed.
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
The full moons of this summer -- July 12, August 10 and September 9 -- are supermoons, as NASA calls them.
updated 11:51 AM EDT, Sun June 29, 2014
If you think you saw a flying saucer over Hawaii, you might not be crazy -- except what you saw didn't come from outer space, though that may be its ultimate destination.
updated 9:47 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
The U.S. space shuttle program retired in 2011, leaving American astronauts to hitchhike into orbit. But after three long years, NASA's successor is almost ready to make an entrance.
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
When I first poked my head inside Virgin Galactic's newest spaceship, I felt a little like I was getting a front-row seat to space history.
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
The sun is putting on a fireworks show again.
updated 7:02 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
A year is a very long time on Mars -- 687 days. NASA's Curiosity rover can attest that it's enough time for some unexpected life changes.
updated 2:00 PM EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
At least one corner of the solar system may be serving up an ice-and-water sandwich, with the possibility of life on the rocks.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
You can't see it happening on Earth, but space itself is stretching. Ever since the Big Bang happened 13.8 billion years ago, the universe has been getting bigger.
updated 7:59 AM EST, Fri February 28, 2014
Our galactic neighborhood just got a lot bigger. NASA announced the discovery of 715 new planets.
updated 10:37 AM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
Scientists have made a breakthrough in understanding how our world as we know it came to be.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue February 25, 2014
From a sheep ranch in Western Australia comes the oldest slice of Earth we know.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT