Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Rubble-Pile Minor Planet Sylvia and Her Twins

11.08.2005


VLT NACO Instrument Helps Discover First Triple Asteroid


Artist rendering of the triple system: Romulus, Sylvia, and Remus.



One of the thousands of minor planets orbiting the Sun has been found to have its own mini planetary system. Astronomer Franck Marchis (University of California, Berkeley, USA) and his colleagues at the Observatoire de Paris (France) [1] have discovered the first triple asteroid system - two small asteroids orbiting a larger one known since 1866 as 87 Sylvia [2].

"Since double asteroids seem to be common, people have been looking for multiple asteroid systems for a long time," said Marchis. "I couldn’t believe we found one."


The discovery was made with Yepun, one of ESO’s 8.2-m telescopes of the Very Large Telescope Array at Cerro Paranal (Chile), using the outstanding image’ sharpness provided by the adaptive optics NACO instrument. Via the observatory’s proven "Service Observing Mode", Marchis and his colleagues were able to obtain sky images of many asteroids over a six-month period without actually having to travel to Chile.

One of these asteroids was 87 Sylvia, which was known to be double since 2001, from observations made by Mike Brown and Jean-Luc Margot with the Keck telescope. The astronomers used NACO to observe Sylvia on 27 occasions, over a two-month period. On each of the images, the known small companion was seen, allowing Marchis and his colleagues to precisely compute its orbit. But on 12 of the images, the astronomers also found a closer and smaller companion. 87 Sylvia is thus not double but triple!

Because 87 Sylvia was named after Rhea Sylvia, the mythical mother of the founders of Rome [3], Marchis proposed naming the twin moons after those founders: Romulus and Remus. The International Astronomical Union approved the names.

Sylvia’s moons are considerably smaller, orbiting in nearly circular orbits and in the same plane and direction. The closest and newly discovered moonlet, orbiting about 710 km from Sylvia, is Remus, a body only 7 km across and circling Sylvia every 33 hours. The second, Romulus, orbits at about 1360 km in 87.6 hours and measures about 18 km across.

The asteroid 87 Sylvia is one of the largest known from the asteroid main belt, and is located about 3.5 times further away from the Sun than the Earth, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The wealth of details provided by the NACO images show that 87 Sylvia is shaped like a lumpy potato, measuring 380 x 260 x 230 km (see ESO PR Photo 25a/05). It is spinning at a rapid rate, once every 5 hours and 11 minutes.

The observations of the moonlets’ orbits allow the astronomers to precisely calculate the mass and density of Sylvia. With a density only 20% higher than the density of water, it is likely composed of water ice and rubble from a primordial asteroid. "It could be up to 60 percent empty space," said co-discoverer Daniel Hestroffer (Observatoire de Paris, France).

"It is most probably a "rubble-pile" asteroid", Marchis added. These asteroids are loose aggregations of rock, presumably the result of a collision. Two asteroids smacked into each other and got disrupted. The new rubble-pile asteroid formed later by accumulation of large fragments while the moonlets are probably debris left over from the collision that were captured by the newly formed asteroid and eventually settled into orbits around it. "Because of the way they form, we expect to see more multiple asteroid systems like this."

Marchis and his colleagues will report their discovery in the August 11 issue of the journal Nature, simultaneously with an announcement that day at the Asteroid Comet Meteor conference in Armação dos Búzios, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil.

[1]: The team is composed of Franck Marchis (University of California, Berkeley, USA) and Pascal Descamps, Daniel Hestroffer, and Jerome Berthier (Observatoire de Paris, France).

[2]: 87 Sylvia is the 87th minor planet discovered. It was first observed from the Observatory of Madras (India) on May 16, 1866, by the Government Astronomer Norman R. Pogson. It was common in the early days to assign a name - mostly feminine - from the mythology to newly found asteroids. Pogson selected a name from the list furnished to him by Sir John Herschel.

[3]: In the Appendix, you can read the story of Syvia and her sons, Romulus and Remus.

Henri Boffin | alfa
Further information:
http://www.eso.org/outreach/press-rel/pr-2005/pr-21-05.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Igniting a solar flare in the corona with lower-atmosphere kindling
29.03.2017 | New Jersey Institute of Technology

nachricht NASA spacecraft investigate clues in radiation belts
28.03.2017 | 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: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

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...

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

Researchers shoot for success with simulations of laser pulse-material interactions

29.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Igniting a solar flare in the corona with lower-atmosphere kindling

29.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

As sea level rises, much of Honolulu and Waikiki vulnerable to groundwater inundation

29.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>