NASA’s asteroid probe Lucy has made a groundbreaking discovery during its first flyby of its asteroid targets. The asteroid named Dinkinesh, located in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, has been found to have its own moon. This astonishing finding suggests that there may be more binary asteroids in the Solar System than previously anticipated, which could provide crucial insights into the growth and interaction of rocks in our cosmic neighborhood.
Scientists had initially speculated that Dinkinesh might possess a moon due to changes in its brightness as Lucy approached. However, it was the detailed pictures taken by Lucy that confirmed the presence of two objects engaged in an intricate orbital dance. The larger rock is approximately 790 meters wide, while the smaller one measures around 220 meters in size.
This binary asteroid discovery is particularly significant because it is the smallest main belt asteroid that has ever been observed up close. Comparing Dinkinesh with other asteroid binaries like Didymos and Dimorphos will yield invaluable insights into the differences among these celestial bodies.
The study of asteroids plays a significant role in helping scientists grasp the formation of our Solar System and the origins of planets. Lucy’s mission involves the examination of two main belt asteroids and nine Trojan asteroids over a span of 12 years. Discovering additional binary asteroids like Dinkinesh can tremendously aid in uncovering the processes through which planets are formed, as smaller rocks accumulate and eventually merge to create larger celestial bodies.
Data extraction from Lucy’s flyby of Dinkinesh is currently ongoing and is expected to provide crucial information about both the asteroid itself and the spacecraft’s operational performance. Meanwhile, Lucy is already en route to its next main belt encounter, the asteroid Donaldjohanson, which is scheduled for 2025.
This recent development in asteroid research is sure to capture the imagination of both scientists and astronomy enthusiasts alike. Stay tuned for more updates as Lucy continues its remarkable journey through our expansive Solar System.