Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


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!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA
27.10.2016 | University of Oklahoma

nachricht First results of NSTX-U research operations
26.10.2016 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

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: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>