Essentially the most detailed telescope pictures 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 may yield clues concerning the photo voltaic system.
The newest observations of the asteroid, greater than 125 million miles from Earth in the principle 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 usually are not inert our bodies however complicated mini-geological worlds,” mentioned Franck Marchis, a senior planetary astronomer on the SETI Institute in California and the lead creator of a new study of Kleopatra printed this month within the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. “Kleopatra and different weird asteroids are pure laboratories to problem our data of the photo voltaic system and make us suppose outdoors the field.”
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 pictures 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 related by a thick “neck,” so that it distinctly resembles a bone.
Kleopatra is roughly 160 miles finish to finish — concerning 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 sooner its lobes may spin aside.
Marchis mentioned Kleopatra’s uncommon form is a clue to its composition. “It’s in all probability a loosely sure asteroid, made of rubble of iron materials,” he mentioned in an electronic mail.
The researchers suppose it could have shaped from the particles of an affect between bigger asteroids that befell 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’ kids.
It’s commonplace for asteroids to have moons, or to kind “binary techniques” the place two asteroids orbit one another. No less than 15 asteroids in the principle 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 recommend they’re historic conglomerations of rubble spun off from the principle asteroid — in different phrases, Kleopatra could have “given delivery” to its kids.