Research team discovers slowly disintegrating asteroid

disintegrating-asteroidA research team led by iPLEX Director Dave Jewitt has discovered an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter that appears to be slowly breaking apart.  In the original lower-resolution images taken, asteroid P/2013 R3 appeared strangely fuzzy.  A closer inspection with the W.M. Keck observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope revealed the asteroid was in fact composed of several fragments moving away from each other at a rate of 1 mile per hour.  These fragments are surrounded by a cloud of dust the size of Earth, with the largest pieces about twice the size of a football field.

The slow disintegration of P/2013 R3 is unusual.  When asteroids collide or experience a high velocity impact, they break up quickly rather than hovering in a slowly expanding cloud of debris.  Likewise, the asteroid is not located near a large planet whose gravitational field could rip it apart and P/2013 R3 is positioned far from the Sun whose heat could cause gases to expand and crack the asteroid apart.  The cause of the unlikely disintegration, according to Prof. Jewitt and his team, are low energy photons emitted from the surface of the asteroid.  These photons are singly not very energetic, but over the course of millions of years they can spin the asteroid at faster and faster rates.  If the asteroid is held together loosely, a type of asteroid known as a “rubble pile”, it can start spinning so fast that its component parts separate, creating a slow moving cloud of debris as observed with P/2013 R3.

To read more about this discovery, check out a recent Los Angeles Times article.  For more information, visit Dave Jewitt’s website or read their Astrophysical Journal paper.

Michael Busch Honored with Asteroid Naming

UCLA Postdoctoral researcher Michael Busch has been honored with the naming of an asteroid by the International Astronomical Union. The naming was announced 2012 May 18 at the Asteroids, Comets, Meteoroids meeting in Niigata, Japan. Asteroid 8129 Michaelbusch is about 6 km in diameter, slightly eccentric, with an orbit in the inner part of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The formal citation reads:
[quote type=”center”]8129 Michaelbusch: Discovered 1975 Sept. 30 by S. J. Bus at Palomar.
Named in honor of Michael W. Busch (b. 1987), a Jansky Fellow at the Department of Earth and Space Sciences of the University of California, Los Angeles. Busch is a radar astronomer who studies near Earth asteroids, with a particular interest in contact binary asteroids. [/quote]

The parameters of Michaelbusch can be found here:

Watch videos of Michael describing his research below: