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X-shaped objects in space?

NASA’s Hubble Telescope has captured images of a strange object in space believed to be the result of an asteroid collision.

AN IMAGE CAPTURED BY NASA’S Hubble Telescope appears to show a strange x-shaped object in space.

Astronomers first began tracking the object back in January, and spent five months charting its movements in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Astronomer David Jewitt from UCLA said the shape was initially thought to be a comet. By checking through Hubble’s images, it appeared to be the result of a high-speed collision between two asteroids.

Jewitt has estimated that the collision actually occurred in early 2009.

However, he says that although the images suggest an asteroid collision is responsible for  the x-shape, there is not enough evidence to rule out other explanations.

A statement from NASA says:

Astronomers do not have a good explanation for the X shape. The crisscrossed filaments at the head of the tail suggest that the colliding asteroids were not perfectly symmetrical. Material ejected from the impact, therefore, did not make a symmetrical pattern, a bit like the ragged splash made by throwing a rock into a lake. Larger particles in the X disperse very slowly and give this structure its longevity.

NASA says that capturing asteroid collisions is very difficult, given the rarity of collisions large enough to be recorded.

Hubble may be used to chart the object again next year to see how the X shape has developed. Jewitt said that instead of expanding dramatically as expected in a recent collision, the x-shape had been “expanding very, very slowly”.

[caption id="attachment_34776" align="alignnone" width="255" caption="These four Hubble Space Telescope images, taken over a five-month period from January to May 2010, show the odd-shaped debris that likely came from a collision between two asteroids."][/caption]

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