Is that a smashed comet or an X-Wing fighter? Scientists are offering up their own theories as to what created the striking star-inspired image, which was captured by NASA's Hubble telescope in January. "Two small and previously unknown asteroids recently collided, creating a shower of debris that is being swept back into a tail from the collision site by the pressure of sunlight," said principal investigator David Jewitt of the University of California at Los Angeles.
The object - dubbed “P/2010 A2” after it was discovered in early January by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program sky survey - has traits similar to a comet, but the x-shape appears disconnected from the tail. "The filamentary appearance of P/2010 A2 is different from anything seen in Hubble images of normal comets," Jewitt said. Sci-fi lovers may instead go for a more fantastical theory, believing it to be the "Last Starfighter" or, perhaps, a Kilrathi dreadnought from the Wing Commander video game.
The Associated Press reports that the photo, released Wednesday, depicts the origins of the universe 600 million years after the Big Bang. The young galaxies are smaller, of a different color and haven’t yet formed into the spirals or elliptical shapes that occur with much older galaxies.
The photo, released at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, was the first time scientists were able to capture an image of the universe at such an early age. Prior to an upgrade last year on the Hubble telescope, the earliest photo of the universe was 900 million years after the Big Bang, the explosion that created the universe about 13.7 billion years ago.
NASA is hoping a new telescope set to launch in four years will be able to finally capture images of the first galaxies.
NASA scientists interrupted the calibration of the Hubble space telescope Tuesday in order to focus on a debris spot on the surface of the planet Jupiter.
"Because we believe this magnitude of impact is rare, we are very fortunate to see it with Hubble," said Amy Simon-Miller of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in a NASA press release. "Details seen in the Hubble view show a lumpiness to the debris plume caused by turbulence in Jupiter’s atmosphere."
The impact is believed to have been created when a small comet or asteroid several hundred yards in diameter entered the planet’s atmosphere and broke apart on July 19. It was first spotted last Sunday by Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley, The Associated Press reported.
NASA estimated the force of the explosion unleashed by the collision as thousands of times more powerful than the asteroid or comet that sturuck the Siberian Tunguska River Valley in 1908, which leveled nearly 800 square miles of the region’s forest.
In addition to confirming the successful results of a May servicing mission, the new Hubble photos provide a wealth of detail about the atmospheric conditions of Jupiter.
"Hubble's truly exquisite imaging capability has revealed an astonishing wealth of detail in the impact site," Heidi Hammel, leader of an observation team at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., said in the NASA release. "By combining these images with our ground-based data at other wavelengths, our Hubble data will allow a comprehensive understanding of exactly what is happening to the impact debris."