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An Object Like Nothing We've Seen Before Has Been Spotted In Our Solar System


The Hubble Space Telescope is no stranger to finding strange things that defy definition and one more has been added to that list, a binary asteroid spotted by astronomers that is also a comet.

Hybrid Asteroid Spotted In Solar System by Astronomers And It’s Strange

Astronomers Wonder How Many Hybrids Are Out There

Astronomers have found not just one, but two, swirling around each other in a cosmic dance and leaving behind a stream of dust as they go. It is certainly a beautiful example of nature and it does bring about questions that are very interesting concerning just how many hybrids there might be out there.

As part of the Spacewatch program, the binary object was seen first in 2006 and it was given the rather unassuming name of 2006 VW139. However, in 2012 astronomers found that there was something strange about it as the asteroid had characteristics that were comet-like, with one giveaway being the tail that was streaming behind it.

Asteroid Stands Out As It Is In Two Pieces

There is nothing new about main-belt comets. However, they are not common either. The asteroid is only one of a dozen objects to have ever been found and what makes this one standout is the fact that it is in two pieces.

2006 VW139 is made from two lumps of equal size that are orbiting each other at about 60 miles distance but why it split in half is something of a mystery and left astronomers wanting to take an even closer look. When the twins came closer to the Sun in September last year, NASA made the Hubble Space Telescope capture images that were clearer of the tail and the nucleus and this confirmed signatures of a comet sitting where they do not usually sit.

Jessica Agarwal from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany said that they had found indications that were strong for sublimation of water ice thanks to an increase in solar heating, very much in the same way as the comet’s tail is created. Researchers believe that 2006 VW139 split apart around 5000 years ago thanks to stress rotation, where a stream of vapor coming off them helped them to move more and more apart.

There is still one question that remains, and this is how common systems such as this are actually in the inner Solar System. Agarwal said that more observational and theoretical work is needed along with the sighting of more objects similar to this one to be able to find an answer to the question. It is hoped that more of the oddball icy asteroids will be seen with technology making advancements, to reveal a great deal more of the beauty along with detail in the rock-studded asteroid belt.

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An Object Like Nothing We've Seen Before Has Been Spotted In Our Solar System

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