Labelled view of extraordinary multi-tailed asteroid P/2013 P5
These NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope images reveal a never-before seen set of six comet-like tails radiating from a body in the asteroid belt designated P/2013 P5. P/2013 P5 is seen on the left as viewed on 10 September 2013, and on the right as seen on 23 September 2013.
The asteroid was discovered as an unusually fuzzy looking object by astronomers using the Pan-STARRS survey telescope in Hawaii. The multiple tails were discovered in Hubble images taken on 10 September 2013. When Hubble returned to the asteroid on 23 September its appearance had totally changed – it looked as if the entire structure had swung around. The location of each of the tails is indicated by an arrow, showing clearly how they change over time. The Sun is located to the top right of each frame.
One interpretation is that the asteroid's rotation rate has increased to the point where dust is falling off the surface and escaping into space, where the pressure of sunlight sweeps it out into tails. According to this theory, the asteroid's spin has been accelerated by the gentle push of sunlight. Based on analysis of the tail structure, the object has ejected dust for at least five months.
These visible light images were taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3.