After the Southwest Analysis Institute-led Lucy mission flew previous the asteroid Dinkinesh, the group found that it’s much more “marvelous” as its newly found satellite tv for pc is now proven to be a double-lobed moonlet. As NASA’s Lucy spacecraft continued to return information acquired throughout its first asteroid encounter on Nov. 1, 2023, the group found that Dinkinesh’s shock satellite tv for pc is itself a contact binary, manufactured from two smaller objects touching one another.
Within the first picture of Dinkinesh and its satellite tv for pc taken at closest method, the 2 lobes of the contact binary lined up, one behind the opposite, showing to be one physique from Lucy’s perspective. When the group downlinked extra photographs captured after the closest encounter, the info revealed that Dinkenesh has a double moonlet.
“Contact binaries appear to be pretty widespread within the photo voltaic system,” stated John Spencer, Lucy deputy challenge scientist, of the Boulder, Colorado, department of the San Antonio-based SwRI. “We haven’t seen many up shut, and we’ve by no means seen one orbiting one other asteroid. We’d been puzzling over odd variations in Dinkinesh’s brightness that we noticed on method, which gave us a touch that Dinkinesh may need a moon of some kind, however we by no means suspected something so weird!”
Lucy’s main aim is to survey the never-before-visited Jupiter Trojan asteroids. The mission group added the primary encounter with this small, main-belt asteroid in January 2023. The Dinkinesh encounter would function an inflight check of the spacecraft’s novel terminal monitoring system, which retains tabs on the goal because the spacecraft buzzes previous. The superb efficiency of that system at Dinkinesh allowed the group to seize a number of views on the system, characterizing the asteroids’ shapes and making this surprising discovery.
“It’s puzzling, to say the least,” stated SwRI’s Hal Levison, the Lucy principal investigator. “I’d have by no means anticipated a system that appears like this. Particularly, I don’t perceive why the 2 parts of the satellite tv for pc have comparable sizes. That is going to be enjoyable for the scientific neighborhood to determine.”
Lucy took the second picture about six minutes after closest method from roughly 1,010 miles (1,630 km) away. The spacecraft traveled round 960 miles (1,500 km) between the 2 launched photographs.
“It’s actually marvelous when nature surprises us with a brand new puzzle,” stated Tom Statler, Lucy program scientist from NASA headquarters in Washington. “Nice science pushes us to ask questions that we by no means knew we wanted to ask.”
The group is continuous to downlink and course of the rest of the encounter information. Dinkinesh and its satellite tv for pc pair are the primary asteroids Lucy has explored. Over Lucy’s 12-year journey, that tally will embrace eight goal asteroids with three identified satellites amongst them, together with the newly found contact binary. After skimming the internal fringe of the principle asteroid belt, Lucy is now heading again towards Earth for a gravity help in December 2024. That shut flyby will propel the spacecraft again by the principle asteroid belt, the place it’ll observe the asteroid Donaldjohanson in 2025 and proceed its journey to succeed in the Trojan asteroids in 2027.