The most detailed telescope images but of the asteroid Kleopatra — named after the traditional Egyptian queen — clearly present its weird “dog-bone” form, and astronomers say their research of it might yield clues in regards to the photo voltaic system.
The newest observations of the asteroid, greater than 125 million miles from Earth in the primary asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, have allowed scientists to extra precisely measure Kleopatra’s uncommon form and mass — and it’s turned out to be a few third lighter than anticipated, which supplies clues to its composition and formation.
“Asteroids are not inert bodies but complex mini-geological worlds,” mentioned Franck Marchis, a senior planetary astronomer on the SETI Institute in California and the lead writer of a new study of Kleopatra printed this month within the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. “Kleopatra and other weird asteroids are natural laboratories to challenge our knowledge of the solar system and make us think outside the box.”
Kleopatra was found in 1880 and attracts its identify from the unique spelling of Cleopatra within the Greek alphabet. It’s comparatively massive for an asteroid and was noticed by Earth-based telescopes for many years to find out its orbit across the solar. Its peculiar form was solely confirmed by radar about 10 years in the past.
The newest images from the European Southern Observatory’s highly effective Very Large Telescope in northern Chile present extra element of its unusual form — with two massive lobes linked by a thick “neck,” so that it distinctly resembles a bone.
Kleopatra is roughly 160 miles finish to finish — in regards to the dimension of New Jersey — and weighs greater than 3,300 trillion tons. It rotates roughly each 5 hours, and astronomers predict if it rotated a lot quicker its lobes would possibly spin aside.
Marchis mentioned Kleopatra’s uncommon form is a clue to its composition. “It’s probably a loosely bound asteroid, made of rubble of iron material,” he mentioned in an e-mail.
The researchers assume it might have shaped from the particles of an impression between bigger asteroids that came about billions of years in the past.
A crew led by Marchis introduced in 2008 that their observations confirmed Kleopatra additionally has two small moons, every just a few miles throughout, which they dubbed AlexHelios and CleoSelene after two of the Egyptian queens’ youngsters.
It’s common for asteroids to have moons, or to kind “binary systems” the place two asteroids orbit one another. At least 15 asteroids in the primary belt are recognized to have moons, and greater than 400 orbiting pairs of asteroids have been discovered, Marchis mentioned.
The newest observations have allowed astronomers to make detailed measurements of the orbits of the moons round Kleopatra, he mentioned, which counsel they’re historical conglomerations of rubble spun off from the primary asteroid — in different phrases, Kleopatra might have “given birth” to its youngsters.