Jessica Agarwal, David Jewitt, Max Mutchler, Harold Weaver, and Steven Larson

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Asteroids are primitive Solar System bodies that evolve both collisionally and through disruptions arising from rapid rotation. These processes can lead to the formation of binary asteroids and to the release of dust, both directly and, in some cases, through uncovering frozen volatiles. In a subset of the asteroids called main-belt comets, the sublimation of excavated volatiles causes transient comet-like activity. Here we report that 288P is the first known binary main-belt comet. It is different from the known asteroid binaries in its combination of wide separation, near-equal component size, high eccentricity and comet-like activity. The observations also provide strong support for sublimation as the driver of activity in 288P and show that sublimation torques may play an important part in binary orbit evolution.

We observed 288P with Hubble Space Telescope and examined its coma at high angular resolution.

Caption: Sequence of images of 288P showing changing separation of the tight binary nucleus. Check out the video of 288P here.

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David Jewitt

Comet Jewitt Kuiper