On February 18th, an asteroid with the size of three football fields was supposed to pass by pretty close to Earth. The giant piece of rock is called 2000 EM26. Astronomers and space fans were waiting for the show – except that it never appeared in our skies.
Great disappointment everywhere. What happened? How would an asteroid of such dimensions simply disappear?
After the event had baffled the scientists, they came to the conclusion that the asteroid’s orbit was most likely simply miscalculated and that it might actually be further in space than previously thought. Scientists assume that although out of sight and with unknown location, the asteroid constitutes no threat for Earth.
Another heavy asteroid, named P/2013 R3 with a weight of 200,000 tons, was being observed by astronomers who had trained Hubble on it, when it suddenly fell apart in front of their eyes. Usually, asteroids only break apart due to a collision with other asteroids. Surprisingly, P/2013 R3 was killed by the sunlight! It started disintegrating when it came close to the Sun as the sunlight caused the asteroid to spin faster and faster, until the centrifugal force caused it to disintegrate from within. It was the very first time that such process has been actually observed, while the possibility of it had been discussed among scientists for a while now.
Here’s the process of disintegration, happening over the course of several months:
NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA)