Scientists have captured and studied the collision of two asteroids for only the second time in the history of astronomy. In the May 20 edition of the Astrophysical Journal Letters (currently online), UCLA’s David Jewitt and colleagues report on observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope of a large asteroid that was hit by a much smaller one.
On Dec. 11, 2010, astronomers noticed that an asteroid known as (596) Scheila had unexpectedly brightened and was sporting short-lived dust plumes. Data from NASA’s Swift satellite and Hubble Space Telescope showed that these changes likely occurred after Scheila was struck by a much smaller asteroid, probably in late November or early December. The shape, evolution and content of the plumes enabled the scientists to reconstruct what occurred. (more…)