Two large and one smaller bright, blue-white dots surrounded with a blue cloud.

Hubble Witnesses an Asteroid Mysteriously Disintegrating

Though fragile comet nuclei have been seen falling apart as they near the Sun, nothing like the slow breakup of an asteroid has ever before been observed in the asteroid belt. A series of Hubble Space Telescope images shows that the fragments are drifting away from each other at a leisurely one mile per hour. This makes it unlikely that the asteroid is disintegrating because of a collision with another asteroid. A plausible explanation is that the asteroid is crumbling due to a subtle effect of sunlight. This causes the rotation rate to slowly increase until centrifugal force pulls the asteroid apart. The asteroid's remnant debris, weighing in at 200,000 tons, will in the future provide a rich source of meteoroids. Hubble Observation of P/2013 R3 - November 15, 2013.

Credits: NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA)