Last days of an asteroid


NASA captures a fast-moving rock entering its death throes.


(6478) Gault, speeding and spinning to its doom.

NASA, ESA, K Meech and J Kleyna (University of Hawaii), and O Hainaut (European Southern Observatory)

If this photo taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is any evidence, the small asteroid known as (6478) Gault won’t be around for much longer.

The image shows two narrow tails of debris streaming behind the four-kilometre-wide bolide – a clear indication that it is spinning so fast that it is starting to come apart.

(6478) Gault was first sighted in 1988, around about 344 million kilometres from the sun. It has been observed regularly ever since, but this is the first time the extra tail has been seen.

Of the roughly 800,000 asteroids so far noted between Mars and Jupiter, astronomers estimate that this type of event is rare, occurring perhaps only once a year.

  1. http://hubblesite.org/
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