First detailed pictures of asteroid reveal bizarre system
The first detailed images of a binary asteroid system reveal a bizarre world where the highest points on the surface are actually the lowest, and the two asteroids dance in each other's gravitational pull.
A binary asteroid is a system where two asteroids orbit around one another, like a mini Earth-moon system, said Daniel Scheeres, University of Michigan associate professor of aerospace engineering. The new results are scheduled to appear Oct. 12 in the journal Science in a pair of papers by Scheeres and Dr. Steven Ostro of the NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The radar images of asteroid KW4 (the official full designation is 66391 1999 KW4) were obtained in May 2001, when the asteroid passed 4.8 million kilometers from Earth. Previously, KW4 was classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) because of the proximity of the asteroid's orbit to Earth's orbit. The new observations show that there is no chance of KW4 hitting Earth within at least the next 1,000 years, Scheeres said.
"The KW4 results have profound consequences for ideas about mitigation of the asteroid collision hazard," Scheeres said.
The observations show that the larger object is spinning in its orbit so fast that it has been flattened into a kind of flying saucer shape, said Scheeres. Because of this, the mountainous region along the center of the asteroid actually forms the lowest part on the asteroid. In fact the asteroid is spinning so fast that the equatorial ridge is very close to lifting off the surface and spinning into space, he said.
Another interesting finding is that the two bodies in the asteroid system are orbiting so closely that they are caught in each other's gravitational pull.
"They are so close together that when one rotates it affects the other's movements," Scheeres said.
Based on the observations, the KW4 binary asteroid appears to have formed either from tidal disruption during a close pass by the Earth or from sunlight shining on it, so that it spins so fast that it eventually broke into two pieces. The odd shapes of asteroids cause them to sometimes spin faster and faster when illuminated by the sun, acting a bit like a solar sail, Scheeres said. This is called the YORP effect.
The recent findings also confirm that the asteroids are only floating piles of rubble held together by gravity and not a solid mass.
Laura Bailey | EurekAlert!
The most recent press releases about innovation >>>
Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...