Asteroid Gault is dying. It's rotates so fast that it is disintegrating. The NASA and ESA funded Hubble space telescope pointed it's camera at the rubble pile designated as 6478 Gault by the Minor Planet Center. Two comet-like tails of dust stream from the asteroid.
Asteroid Gault is part of the inner asteroid belt, located twice earth distance from the sun. Its orbit is steeply inclined compared to Earth's orbit, as a result of collisions with other space objects. Explore Gault's orbit in the simulation below. It loops around the sun about every 3.5 years. 6478 Gault is made of a stony material and nickel-iron. It measures about four kilometers (2 miles) wide.
Where is Asteroid Gault now?
Currently Gault is 247,045,941 (165,045,941) from earth, racing through the solar system at 79,847 (49,904). It is getting 27.5 (17.2) closer to earth every second. The asteroid is breaking up due to its fast rotation, which long has been theorized to occur when asteroids rotate faster than once every two hours. A scientist of the University of Hawaii called it 'the best smoking gun' for a breaking up fast rotator.
Asteroid 6478 Gault is also the first asteroid that scientists have observed changing color. "We think we have witnessed the asteroid losing its reddish dust to space, and we are seeing the asteroid's underlying, fresh blue layers." (Michael Marsset, MIT, 2019)
Will it hit or miss Earth?
Asteroid Gault's orbit is between 150 and 250 million kilometers (80-160 million miles) away from Earth, so there is no collision risk. 6478 Gault is part of the Phocaea family of asteroids that are located in the inner portion of the asteroid belt, just outside of Mars' orbit around the sun.
6478 Gault was discovered in 1988 by astronomers and named in honor of American planetary geologist Donald Gault, who specialized in impact cratering processes.
Photo Credit and other: NASA, ESO/S. Brunier