NASA Hubble Space Telescope captures asteroid Gault coming apart
Washington : NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured a small asteroid that is spinning fast and throwing out debris in a process of splitting apart.
The Hubble images from show two narrow, comet-like tails of dusty debris streaming from the asteroid (6478) Gault. Each tail represents an episode in which the asteroid gently shed its material -- key evidence that Gault is beginning to come apart, NASA said in a statement.
Spotted first in 1988, the asteroid is located at 344 million km from the sun.
Hubbles' images have given astronomers the opportunity to study the makeup of these space rocks without sending a spacecraft to sample them.
"We didn't have to go to Gault," explained Olivier Hainaut of the European Southern Observatory in Germany, a member of the Gault observing team.
"We just had to look at the image of the streamers, and we can see all of the dust grains well-sorted by size.
"All the large grains (about the size of sand particles) are close to the object and the smallest grains (about the size of flour grains) are the farthest away because they are being pushed fastest by pressure from sunlight," Hainaut said.
The researchers also believe that the Gault might be spinning slowly for more than 100 million years.