The Hubble Space Telescope has caught a rare moment of an asteroid breaking apart, leaving trails of glittering dust in its wake. Active and unsteady asteroids like Gault are now more accessible to detect because of the new survey telescopes that enable scientists to scan the entire sky, which means no escaping route for misbehaving asteroids.
What are Asteroids? They are minor planetary-like objects which can neither be called a planet nor a comet. To explain, these are generally in the direct orbit around the Sun, also known as the inner solar system. The size of asteroids can vary from 1000 km to 10 meters. The three largest asteroids are almost spherical, like miniature planets, but with differentiated interiors.
Asteroid named Gault has been known to astronomers since 1988. Gault is located about 214 million miles (344 million km) from the Sun and about 2.5 miles (4 km) wide. Until now, it was just an ordinary, boring asteroid, but as new research, set to be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters shows, Gault has entered into self-destruct mode because of its rapid spin.
Hainaut, along with his colleagues, studied Gault using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and a variety of ground-based instruments in Hawaii, Spain, and India led by Jan Kleyna from the University of Hawaii; these observations revealed the two debris tails and allowed the team to understand how they were produced.
The researchers said that one tail is about 500,000 miles (800,000 km) long by 3,000 miles (4,800 km) wide. The other tail spans about 125,000 miles (200,000 km) in its most extended direction. Sunlight pushes the tails’ constituent particles toward the outer solar system.
There are approximately 800,000 known specimens in the asteroid belt, which the scientists believe are destroyed by about one asteroid a year due to the YORP effect. Estimated by scientists, Gault has probably been spinning for more than 100 million years before it began disintegrating.