Collisions between bodies in our Solar System are not thought to be that uncommon. With millions of chunks of rock and ice in is unsurprising that two collide. What is rare however is the aftermath of such an event to be witnessed. The night sky is very, very large and the debris from such collisions rapidly dissipate, so the chance of seeing the aftermath, let alone the collision itself is tiny.
Despite the odds, the Hubble and SWIFT space telescopes have taken images of the asteroid 569 Scheila that clearly show the debris from a recent collision.
Hubble’s image of Asteroid (596) Scheila
The Hubble image was taken on December the twenty seventh and shows the faint C-Shaped dust arc (or coma) surrounding and trailing behind the asteroid in visible light. A straight line streak of material trailing directly behind the asteroid can also be seen in the shot.
SWIFT image of 596 Scheila in ultraviolet light Credit: NASA/Swift/DSS/D. Bodewits (University of Maryland, College Park)
The SWIFT image clearly shows the faint two dust plumes trailing the asteroid. This image was taken on the fifteenth of December 2010.
The dust plumes are partly caused by ...