NASA has released images from the Hubble Space Telescope showing an asteroid that is tearing itself apart. Located 214 million mi (344 million km) from the Sun, the 2.5-mile-wide (4-km) asteroid (6478) Gault is spinning so fast that it is self-destructing and throwing off debris tails half a million miles (800,000 km) long.
Sometimes it seems like the world is falling apart, but for Gault, this is literally the case. First discovered in 1988, it sits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and might have just been catalogued as another unexceptional rock, except that observations from the Hubble telescope, the Canada–France–Hawaii Telescope, the Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) and the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) telescopes in Hawaii, the William Herschel Telescope in La Palma, ESA’s (European Space Agency) Optical Ground Station in Tenerife, and the Himalayan Chandra Telescope in India have shown that Gault is anything but unexceptional.
For one thing, there are two huge tails spreading out behind Gault. One is over 500,000 mi (800,000 km) long and 3,000 mi (4,800 km) wide, while the other is a quarter as long. These comet-like tails are being pushed out by the solar winds, but unlike comet tails, which are made of gas and ice crystals, these are made of dust and rubble being flung off by the asteroid at about a walking pace.