Hubble has observed some weird things since it was launched in 1990, but this is probably one of the strangest.
In September 2013, the Catalina and Pan-STARRS sky surveys spotted a mysterious object in the asteroid belt, a region of rocky debris that occupy the space between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Follow-up observations by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii resolved three separate objects within the fuzzy cloud. It was so strange that Hubble mission managers decided to use the space telescope to get a closer look.
And what they saw has baffled and thrilled astronomers in equal measure.
PHOTOS: Hubble's Latest Mind Blowing Cosmic Pictures
Hubble resolved the slow-moving debris of an asteroid that is in the process of breaking up. The asteroid, designated P/2013 R3, hasn't hit anything, as the fragments are moving too slow - it just seems to be falling apart. This is unprecedented, never before has an asteroid been seen disintegrating to this degree in the asteroid belt.
"This is a rock. Seeing it fall apart before our eyes is pretty amazing," said David Jewitt of the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the investigation.
Comets are often seen fragmenting in this way, particularly when they drift too close to the sun; ices sublimate, creating a violent out-gassing of vapor, causing the cometary structure to rupture and break apart. A recent example of a cometary breakup is that of Comet ISON that got shredded by the sun's extreme heating and powerful tidal forces during Thanksgiving last year.
While analyzing Hubble data, Jewitt's team could actually see ten separate chunks of asteroid slowly drifting apart - at only 1.5 kilometers per hour (the speed of a slow walk). Four of the largest chunks are around 400 meters wide, roughly four times the length of a football field.
GALLERY: 5 Ways the Solar Wind Will Blow You Away
"This is a really bizarre thing to observe - we've never seen anything like it before," said co-author Jessica Agarwal of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany, in a Hubble news release. "The break-up could have many different causes, but the Hubble observations are detailed enough that we can actually pinpoint the process responsible."