The Hubble Space Telescope recently observed an asteroid in the process of falling apart. Known as 6478 Gault, located in the main asteroid belt of our solar system between Mars and Jupiter, and roughly 2.5 miles wide, this asteroid is rotating so fast—about once every 2 hours—that it is literally flinging itself apart. The observations revealed two distinct tails of debris streaming from the asteroid, which consequently very much resembles a comet. As a close reading of the title of this post may indicate, our image processing of the data led to two representations of the image—hence a tale of two images of a two-tailed asteroid…see what I did there? (For more specifics on the nature of asteroid Gault, be sure to visit the Hubble press release.)
When HST observes a moving Solar System target, the observatory must track the target throughout the observation. This means that any background objects, like stars that otherwise appear stationary, will be smeared out during the course of an exposure—think of the motion blur you would see in a snapshot focused on a race car speeding down a track.
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Additionally, the telescope is traveling through its orbit as exposures are taken, ...