Speeding through the vacuum of space at a mere 11,000mph – The object, officially called P/2010-A2, was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in January. The strangest thing is not only the X-shaped object, but the fact that its 460-foot-wide nucleus is outside the dust halo and separated from the trail. This behavior is something never before seen before in a comet – If it’s even a comet.
“This is quite different from the smooth dust envelopes of normal comets,” said UCLA investigator David Jewitt. “The filaments are made of dust and gravel, presumably recently thrown out of the nucleus. Some are swept back by radiation pressure from sunlight to create straight dust streaks. Embedded in the filaments are co-moving blobs of dust that likely originated from tiny unseen parent bodies.”
Translation = “I have no clue what the hell it is.”
According to Wikipedia…
P/2010 A2 is an asteroid, a member of the Flora family. It is notable for having the characteristics of both asteroids andcomets, and thus, was initially given a cometary designation. Subsequent findings regarding its orbit, however, place it within the main asteroid belt, and analysis of its image by the Hubble telescope suggests that its tail is debris resulting from a recent head-on collision between asteroids rather than from sublimation of cometary ice. The position of the nucleus is remarkable for being offset from the axis of the tail and outside of the dust halo, a situation never before seen in a comet.
P/2010 A2 was discovered on January 6, 2010 by Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) using a 1 meter (36″)reflecting telescope with a CCD camera. Since it has only been observed over a 19 day arc of the 3.5 year orbit, details of the exact orbit are still being refined. It appears to have come to perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) around the start of December 2009, about a month before it was discovered.
With an aphelion (furthest distance from the Sun) of only 2.6 AU, P/2010 A2 spends all of its time inside of the frostlineat 2.7 AU. Beyond the frostline volatile ices are generally more common. However, it is not yet possible to rule out the scenario that the active outgassing of P/2010 A2 is due to sublimation of ices hidden beneath the crust.