Astronomers have witnessed an asteroid changing its colour in a never-seen-before event. Asteroid 6478 Gault, sporting a comet-like dust tail, was seen changing its colour from red to blue...leaving scientists astonished, baffled and what not. This has happened for the first time.
The Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT) said in a release on Thursday: "It is the first time scientists have observed a colour-shifting asteroid, in real time."
The change in colour, however, was not as dramatic as people may think. Astronomers witnessed Asteroid 6478 Gault colour change from red to blue but this was not visible to the human eye.
MIT postdoc Michael Marsset called the colour shift of the asteroid a very big surprise. "We think we have witnessed the asteroid losing its reddish dust to space, and we are seeing the asteroid's underlying, fresh blue layers," he said.
Marsset and his colleagues have also confirmed that the asteroid is rocky—proof that the asteroid's tail, though seemingly comet-like, is caused by an entirely different mechanism, as comets are not rocky but more like loose snowballs of ice and dust.
"It's the first time to my knowledge that we see a rocky body emitting dust, a little bit like a comet," Marsset says. "It means that probably some mechanism responsible for dust emission is different from comets, and different from most other active main-belt asteroids."
The asteroid is currently located between Mars and Jupiter. Asteroid 6478 Gault was first discovered in 1988 and has since been on astronomers' radar, a report said. Observations from late last year and early this year showed the asteroid producing two dust tails which is rare for a space rock of this kind, it said.