NASA’s Hubble snapped the (2.5-miles-wide 4 kilometres) asteroid rapidly disintegrating in space. Hubble Telescope images combined with data from other observatories show two distinct trails of rubble behind the asteroid.
Dusty trails like these are commonly associated with icy comets, which slowly break down and sublimate under the immense pressure of the Sun.
Still, the asteroid, called by scientists [Asteroid 6478 Gault], is conferring off related action by spinning rapidly sufficient to split apart.
Asteroid Gault is now hurtling through space some 214 million miles (344 million kilometres) from the Sun. Gault is just one of the 800,000 known space rocks in the solar system’s asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
NASA asteroid: The Hubble Space Telescope snapped this photo of a crumbling space rock
Astronomers hope Hubble’s discovery can help scientists learn more about the makeup of asteroids without having to send costly probes to their surface.
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 quickest by pressure from daylight.”
The longest of Asteroid Gault’s two tails is estimated to stretch over 500,000 miles (800,000km) and measures about 3,000 miles (4,800km) in width.
NASA said the second, shorter tail only measures about a quarter of the first’s length.
Given enough time, both streamers are expected to fade out and disperse through space. The asteroid’s self-destructive rotation was linked to an effect known as the YORP effect or the Yarkovsky–O’Keefe–Radzievskii–Paddack effect.
The YORP effect occurs when direct sunlight heats up an asteroid enough to cause infrared radiation to escape from the space rock’s surface. NASA asteroid: The space rock is spinning fast enough to shed its outer layers.
Eventually, NASA said, the centrifugal forces of spring overcome the asteroid’s gravity enough to destabilise the rock’s surface.
When this happens, landslides on the asteroid shoot off pits and pieces of rock and dust at speeds raining from “a couple of miles per hour, or the speed of a strolling human”.
NASA said Asteroid Gault’s rotation has likely been slowly building in speeds for more than 100 million years. Asteroid Gault is the second-ever space rock whose spinning was linked to the YORP effect.