A never-seen-before occurrence has been spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope where a pair of asteroids, known after their collective name, 288P, has been exhibiting comet-like features.
Formed as a binary unit, this space object was first detected back in 2006 by members of the Spacewatch program. Then, in 2012, scientists detected unusual characteristics of the object.
It was only in September 2016, when the asteroid made its closest approach to the sun revealing that asteroid 288P is not a single object but two asteroids of almost same mass and size. In addition, they are orbiting around each other at a distance of about 100 kilometers.
“We detected strong indications of the sublimation of water ice due to the increased solar heating – similar to how the tail of a comet is created”, explained lead study author Jessica Agarwal from Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany.
“This makes 288P the first known binary asteroid that is also classified as a main-belt comet.”
“The most probable formation scenario of 288P is a breakup due to fast rotation. After that, the two fragments may have been moved further apart by sublimation torques.” Agarwal further added.