Two moons discovered around asteroid 216 Kleopatra

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Orbit of 216 Kleopatra, which is now only 1.2 AU away from the Earth. You can see orbits of just about every near-Earth asteroid here.

The dog bone-shaped asteroid 216 is turning out to be even more interesting, now that two moons have been discovered around it. Here's what says:
Its weird shape is probably the outcome of an impact event. The two lobes could be fragments resulting from the disruption of a parent asteroid that later gently collided to form a dumbbell-shaped body with overall dimension of 217 km by 94 km by 81 km.

To reexamine this interesting scenario and better determine the size and shape of this fascinating asteroid, Marchis led a team that obtained telescope time to observe the asteroid in September 2008. The observing schedule allowed the team to take advantage of the asteroid's position when it was close to Earth at 1.2 AU. They used the Keck-II telescope, the largest optical telescope in the world located on the top of Mauna Kea, in Hawaii. The Keck Adaptive Optics system was recently improved and its large 10-m aperture produces images with an incomparable quality in sharpness (resolution up to 0.035"). Using the time-zone difference, Marchis' collaborator, Pascal Descamps, located in Paris, France, participated remotely in the observations. Shortly after the first images were recorded and processed, they realized that the dog-bone shape model obtained by radar inversion agreed with the direct images recorded at the telescope. Descamps also pointed out that a tiny 5 km-sized moon was seen on the first images of Kleopatra. Additional data taken during this eventful night revealed a second fainter satellite (3 km-sized) that was closer to the primary.
Sounds like a fascinating place to explore, and quite close to the Earth as well. also has a forum thread on the discovery here.


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