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Friday, March 29, 2019

Asteroid Rips Itself Apart

Astronomers noticed that a well-known asteroid that orbits the sun way out past Mars had sprouted a long, comet-like tail. Data from the Hubble Telescope reveals that something has set 6478 Gault off kilter and it’s self-destructing, spinning itself into pieces.

“Even a tiny disturbance, like a small impact from a pebble, might have triggered the recent outbursts.” University of Hawaii astronomer Jan Kleyna, who led the research into Gault’s new tail, said.

Gault has fallen victim to the YORP effect, in which sunlight hitting the asteroid heats its surface, causing a shift in the asteroid’s momentum.

Sometimes, as the astronomers suspect is the case with Gault, this momentum can speed up the asteroid’s spin to the point that it begins to disintegrate.

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