2014-08-28. NASA's Spitzer Telescope Witnesses Asteroid Smashup.

posted Sep 5, 2014, 8:42 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted an eruption of dust around a young star, possibly the result of a smashup between large asteroids. This type of collision can eventually lead to the formation of planets. Scientists had been regularly tracking the star, called NGC 2547-ID8, when it surged with a huge amount of fresh dust between August 2012 and January 2013. "We think two big asteroids crashed into each other, creating a huge cloud of grains the size of very fine sand, which are now smashing themselves into smithereens and slowly leaking away from the star," said lead author and graduate student Huan Meng of the University of Arizona, Tucson. ...Rocky planets begin life as dusty material circling around young stars. The material clumps together to form asteroids that ram into each other. Although the asteroids often are destroyed, some grow over time and transform into proto-planets. After about 100 million years, the objects mature into full-grown, terrestrial planets. Our moon is thought to have formed from a giant impact between proto-Earth and a Mars-size object. ..."We not only witnessed what appears to be the wreckage of a huge smashup, but have been able to track how it is changing -- the signal is fading as the cloud destroys itself by grinding its grains down so they escape from the star," said Kate Su of the University of Arizona and co-author on the study. "Spitzer is the best telescope for monitoring stars regularly and precisely for small changes in infrared light over months and even years." ..."We are watching rocky planet formation happen right in front of us," said George Rieke, a University of Arizona co-author of the new study. "This is a unique chance to study this process in near real-time." ...The results of this study are posted online Thursday in the journal Science.... http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/august/nasas-spitzer-telescope-witnesses-asteroid-smashup/. NASA RELEASE 14-226.