TECH
08/11/2013 06:29 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Astronomers 'Dumbfounded' By Strange Asteroid With Six Tails (PICTURES)

A unique and unexplained phenomenon has been discovered in space - an asteroid which appears to have six tails.

The Hubble Space Telescope spotted the rock spewing dust and other material from six distinct places at once.

Astronomers likened the find to a comet with six tails.

The asteroid (named P/2013 P5) was first found in August by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii. But it wasn't until Hubble trained its eye on the rock in September that the tails were discovered.

asteroid

Above: This is an artist's diagram of the structure seen around an active asteroid designated P/2013 P5, which has sprouted six dust tails.

In a statement from Nasa, researcher David Jewitt of the University of California said he was "dumbfounded".

"Its tail structures change dramatically in just 13 days as it belches out dust. That also caught us by surprise. It's hard to believe we're looking at an asteroid."

asteroid

The current theory is that the tails are forming in bursts, possibly as a result of pressure caused by radiation. The asteroid is apparently spinning faster and faster, until it can't hold itself together, at which point it combusts, releasing material until it starts the cycle again.

Researchers said the find was exceptionally unusually, but probably not unique.

"In astronomy, where you find one, you eventually find a whole bunch more," Jewitt said in a statement. "This is just an amazing object to us, and almost certainly the first of many more to come."

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