The finding has left them scratching their heads and searching for an explanation for the strange asteroid's out-of-this-world appearance.
Normal asteroids appear simply as tiny points of light. This bizarre asteroid has six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it like spokes on a wheel.
"It's hard to believe we're looking at an asteroid," lead investigator David Jewitt, a professor in the UCLA Department of Earth and Space Sciences and the UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy, said.
"We were dumbfounded when we saw it. Amazingly, its tail structures change dramatically in just 13 days as it belches out dust," he said.
One interpretation is that the asteroid's rotation rate increased to the point where its surface started flying apart, ejecting dust in episodic eruptions, starting last spring.
The team has ruled out a recent asteroid impact scenario because a large quantity of dust would have been blasted into space all at once.
This object, designated P/2013 P5, has ejected dust for at least five months, Jewitt said.
The findings are published online in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
--ANI (Posted on 08-11-2013)