For the first time, NASA scientists have captured a close view of a comet-like object that possibly resulted from a head-on collision between two asteroids, which they believe could be of the same family of comets that wiped out dinosaurs millions of years ago.
The giant rocks, spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope, created a spectacular trail of debris as they collided at 11,000 mph — five times the speed of a rifle bullet — between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
According to astronomers, the comets witnessed some 90 million miles away from earth could be from the same family of asteroids believed to have crashed onto earth 65 million years ago, triggering a mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs.
Lead scientist David Jewitt from the University of California said: “The truth is we’re still struggling to understand what this means. It’s most likely the result of a recent collision between two asteroids.”
He also said the find could help experts prevent any asteroid from colliding with the earth. “It would be the first case we’ve seen of an asteroid smash happening. It might help us understand how to destroy an asteroid and even prevent one from hitting us.”
NASA said the fuzzy cloud from the debris was first photographed last month in New Mexico, with a robotic camera called LINEAR that searches for asteroids, and then Hubble was switched from its observing routine to get a close-up on January 29, the Telegraph reported.
The picture, taken by Hubble’s powerful new camera, shows a mysterious X-shaped pattern with trailing streamers of dust that suggest the collision was head-on, NASA experts said.
The heart of the main rock, labelled P/2010 A2, can be seen as a bright star-like point outside its own halo of dust. This nucleus is estimated to be about 460 ft wide, they said.
A study of the orbit of P/2010 A2 suggested that it belonged to the Flora asteroid family — rocks which shattered into pieces in a bigger collision more than 100 million years ago.
But until now, no such asteroid-asteroid collision has been caught “in the act.”
One fragment of that ancient smash is thought to have struck earth around 65 million years ago, triggering a mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs, the scientists added.