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article imageSix-tailed asteroid baffles scientists

By Michael Thomas     Nov 8, 2013 in Science
It's been described as looking like a "rotating lawn sprinkler" and "definitely freakish," but there's one thing NASA scientists agree on concerning a newly-discovered asteroid — they're not quite sure how it exists.
Here's what NASA scientists do know: the new object is an asteroid discovered between Mars and Jupiter, with six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it. What makes this asteroid so unique is that asteroids usually never have tails.
“It’s hard to believe we’re looking at an asteroid,” said David Jewitt, an astronomer at University of California at Los Angeles and lead author of the new paper about the asteroid. The report is published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
As the Los Angeles times reports, tails are usually associated with comets. They form when a comet gets close the sun, causing the ice in the comet's nucleus to melt and trail behind it.
Astronomers first noted the bizarre asteroid via the Hawaii-based Pan-STARRS telescope. The 1,400-foot-wide object attracted attention because it appeared fuzzier than asteroids usually look when spotted, according to National Geographic.
Scientists have named the rock P/2013 P5, and currently have one theory as to how it formed. Jewitt believes that the six tails might have formed when radiation pressure from the sun caused the asteroid to spin faster, resulting in a structural breakdown. Jewitt isn't convinced his explanation is necessarily the best.
"I am open to the possibility that this explanation is completely wrong," he told the LA Times. "It is possible that there is an explanation we haven't thought of yet, and that might be even more interesting."
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