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Asteroid with six tails leaves astronomers dumbfounded

Weird things are afoot in the asteroid belt, located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. A newly identified asteroid called P/2013 P5 is posing as a comet, with not one but six dust tails trailing behind it.

Astronomers who spotted the strange, fuzzy-looking rock hurtling through space, first with the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii and later with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, are calling it a "weird and freakish object"—and that's only the language they're willing to put in their press release.

"We were literally dumbfounded when we saw it," said UCLA's David Jewitt, the lead scientist on the research paper published today in Astrophysical Journal Letters. "It's hard to believe we’re looking at an asteroid." Comets have tails because as they approach the sun, the dirty ice they're made of begins to heat up and form a dusty cloud around the nucleus, which solar radiation pushes off into a tail. But this asteroid is made up of rock, and it's pretty unlikely that it could contain any ice to boil off in a comet-like tail.

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