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A recent disruption of the main-belt asteroid P/2010 A2


Most inner main-belt asteroids are primitive rock and metal bodies in orbit about the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Disruption, through high-velocity collisions or rotational spin-up, is believed to be the primary mechanism for the production and destruction of small asteroids1,2 and a contributor to dust in the Sun’s zodiacal cloud3, while analogous collisions around other stars feed dust to their debris disks4. Unfortunately, direct evidence about the mechanism or rate of disruption is lacking, owing to the rarity of the events. Here we report observations of P/2010 A2, a previously unknown inner-belt asteroid with a peculiar, comet-like morphology. The data reveal a nucleus of diameter approximately 120 metres with an associated tail of millimetre-sized dust particles. We conclude that it is most probably the remnant of a recent asteroidal disruption in February/March 2009, evolving slowly under the action of solar radiation pressure, in agreement with independent work5.

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Figure 1: Key to the major features in P/2010 A2 on UT 2010 Jan 25.
Figure 2: Hubble Space Telescope images of P/2010 A2 at the eight indicated epochs.
Figure 3: Position angle of the tail as a function of time showing changes caused by the viewing geometry.

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D.J. thanks J. Annis and M. Soares-Santos for taking initial observations at the WIYN telescope from which the unusual appearance of P/2010 A2 was discovered. We thank the Director of Space Telescope Science Institute for the allocations of Discretionary Time used to obtain the results presented here.

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D.J. identified P/2010 A2 as an object of special interest, secured Hubble Space Telescope observing time and led the effort behind the paper. H.W. was responsible for the execution of the observations and assisted with data reduction. M.M. processed the raw images and was responsible for the removal of cosmic rays and other artefacts. J.A. computed the dynamical models. M.D. checked the work and critiqued the proposals and paper.

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Correspondence to David Jewitt.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Jewitt, D., Weaver, H., Agarwal, J. et al. A recent disruption of the main-belt asteroid P/2010 A2. Nature 467, 817–819 (2010).

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