Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Large asteroid is two orbiting objects

24.10.2003


An asteroid that has eluded astronomers for decades turns out to be an unusual pair of objects traveling together in space, a UCLA planetary scientist and colleagues report.



The asteroid Hermes was rediscovered last week after being lost for 66 years. Now Jean-Luc Margot, a researcher in UCLA’s department of Earth and space sciences, has determined that the asteroid is, in fact, two objects orbiting each other. The two objects together would cover an area approximately the size of Disneyland.

Margot and colleagues are analyzing new radar measurements from the Arecibo Observatory, part of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, which is operated by Cornell University under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation. The researchers are scheduled to obtain additional measurements Oct. 25–26 from the observatory, located in Puerto Rico.


Hermes makes frequent close approaches to Earth, Venus and Mars, as well as Vesta, the third-largest asteroid in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

While several other asteroids have satellites, the other known binaries with trajectories that cross the orbit of the Earth consist of a large primary asteroid orbited by a much smaller one.

"Hermes is the first asteroid ever discovered in the near-Earth population where the two components are essentially equal in size," Margot said. "It’s a very unusual binary, a puzzle. It may have formed when it swung so close to a planet that it was ripped apart by gravitational forces, but we don’t know for sure. One of our goals is to learn more about the two components and how they rotate about each other in the hopes that we may be able to deduce how Hermes became a double asteroid.

"Because the components are close to each other, they raise appreciable tides in each other and each has slowed down the other’s spin significantly. They are now likely in a doubly synchronous state, where their spin period is equal to their orbital period. This means they constantly present the same face to each other, just like Pluto and its satellite Charon."

A fast-moving bright object was observed in 1937, named Hermes, and went undetected until last week, although it had revolved around the Sun almost 31 times since then, escaping notice, said Brian Marsden, of the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass.

On Oct. 15, Brian Skiff of the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search sighted the mysterious object; Timothy Spahr at the Minor Planet Center identified similarities with the 1937 observations; and Steven Chesley and Paul Chodas at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) linked the observations to Hermes.

The same day, Margot and his team proposed to observe the asteroid with the Arecibo Observatory’s high-powered radar system -- a proposal that was accepted within hours.

The goals of the proposal were to measure precisely the distance and velocity of this object, to improve the knowledge of its trajectory and help trace back its history, to characterize Hermes’ physical properties, and to search for satellites.

Margot and collaborators have been given five sessions at Arecibo and sessions at the Goldstone radar in California to observe Hermes. Due to the urgent nature of the proposal, Margot observed from his home computer while Mike Nolan, Victor Negron, Alice Hine and Don Campbell were at the Arecibo telescope.

Hermes gets as close as 378 000 miles from Earth -- which, in astronomical terms, is quite close, about 1.6 times the distance between Earth and the moon. Orbits can change appreciably over time due to gravitational influences of the planets, noted Mike Nolan, an Arecibo Observatory scientist and member of the team.

Hermes travels on an elliptical orbit and reaches deep into the inner solar system, crossing Venus’ orbit. The new research has made it possible to extend the time interval over which the trajectory can be computed reliably, said Jon Giorgini, a senior engineer at JPL and member of the team.

"As far as impact risk, there is no cause for worry in our lifetimes," Giorgini said. "Over hundreds of thousands, or millions of years, Hermes could impact the Earth, but only if it doesn’t hit Venus first."

Margot and colleagues described their observations and data in an International Astronomical Union Circular this week. Margot’s research is funded by NASA. His co-authors are Michael Nolan, Victor Negron, Alice Hine, Donald Campbell and Ellen Howell at the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center; Lance Benner, Steven Ostro and Jon Giorgini at JPL; and Brian Marsden at the Minor Planet Center.

Stuart Wolpert | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www2.ess.ucla.edu/~jlmargot/NEAs/Hermes

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

nachricht Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Electrical 'switch' in brain's capillary network monitors activity and controls blood flow

27.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Clock stars: Astrocytes keep time for brain, behavior

27.03.2017 | Life Sciences

Sun's impact on climate change quantified for first time

27.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>