Hubble Observes Aftermath of Suspected Asteroid Collision
This is a Hubble Space Telescope picture of asteroid (596) Scheila, as observed on Dec. 27, 2010. The visible-light image was taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 when the asteroid was approximately 217 million miles away. The asteroid is surrounded by a C-shaped cloud, or coma, of dust particles. A linear tail of dust can also be seen streaming behind the asteroid. The asteroid body, which is approximately 70 miles across, appears star-like because it is overexposed so that the faint dust can be imaged.
A second Hubble observation on Jan. 4, 2011, showed that the dusty coma had faded by 30 percent. These data are consistent with the idea that Hubble is observing the aftermath of a collision between Scheila and a much smaller body that blasted debris from the surface. This would be the second time a collision between two asteroids has been witnessed.