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February 2, 2010

Remember this? As a child it always bugged me that the asteroids didn’t break up when they hit.

Thankfully, physics reigns supreme and our friend the Hubble telescope, with its shiny new camera, captured TWO ASTEROIDS COLLIDING.

(Yes, you are now humming the asteroid/Jaws theme in your head. Ha ha, such power I wield as a blogger.)

The white dot is the remaining asteroid, estimated to be 450 feet wide. Had it hit earth it would have been bad news (the one that made Meteor Crater in AZ was 3 times smaller) but it looks like we are better at seeing these things coming. More about the collision here.

Sadly no spacecraft was involved despite the many probes meandering about the solar system. Asteroid-wise, the Japanese have a probe returning a sample to Earth in a couple of months. More asteroid porn here.

The US has sent Dawn, a probe with a cool ion-thruster (see first image) to rendezvous with both Vesta and Ceres. They are the biggest in the belt (roughly 450km and 250 wide), in 2011 and 2015.




(images via University of Arizona Lunar & Planetary Laboratory)

Vesta and Ceres’ size relative to our moon (via Wikipedia):

Mission trajectory:

Dawn should be a very interesting mission — they are the largest asteroids and scientists suspect that given Ceres’ low density, it may be composed of up to 25% water, and possibly polar ice caps.

I suspect that America’s change of focus of the space program (that abandons the moon, approved by Buzz Aldrin, no less) could very well be directed at the asteroids if it turns out that they are full of interesting and useful elements and minerals.

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