Friday, May 6, 2011

Scheila Sports a Plume

Meet Scheila and her friends:

An asteroid named Scheila lives in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter with millions of other asteroids.  Scheila is about 70 miles across and completes her orbit around the sun every five years.  Late last year, astronomers noticed Scheila had gotten noticeably brighter and was adorned with plumes.  After studying data from the Hubble Space Telescope and Swift satellite, they determined Scheila had collided with one of her fellow asteroids at 11,000 miles per hour (ouch!).  The plumes made Scheila appear comet-like and were most likely small particles of dust from Scheila’s surface.  In two months, the dust had dissipated and Scheila was back to normal.  Thanks to Hubble and Swift, astronomers could study the collision before all evidence of it disappeared, allowing them a peek inside an asteroid.  Now I wonder what Scheila thought of that…