NASA scientists surprised by moon hugging asteroid: ‘This is marvelous’

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By Dan Sears

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The little asteroid visited by NASA’s Lucy spacecraft this week had a big surprise for scientists.

It turns out that the asteroid Dinkinesh has a dinky sidekick — a mini-moon.

The discovery was made during Wednesday’s flyby of Dinkinesh, 300 million miles (480 million kilometers) away in the main asteroid belt beyond Mars.

The spacecraft snapped a picture of the pair when it was about 270 miles out (435 kilometers).

In data and images beamed back to Earth, the spacecraft confirmed that Dinkinesh is barely a half-mile (790 meters) across. Its closely circling moon is a mere one-tenth-of-a-mile (220 meters) in size.

Dinkinesh is just a half-mile (790 meters) across. Its closely circling moon is a mere one-tenth-of-a-mile (220 meters) in size.
AP
The encounter was a “marvelous” surprise for scientists.
NASA/SwRI/JHopkins APL/NOAO/SWNS

NASA sent Lucy past Dinkinesh as a rehearsal for the bigger, more mysterious asteroids out near Jupiter. Launched in 2021, the spacecraft will reach the first of these so-called Trojan asteroids in 2027 and explore them for at least six years. The original target list of seven asteroids now stands at 11.

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Dinkinesh means “you are marvelous” in the Amharic language of Ethiopia. It’s also the Amharic name for Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old remains of a human ancestor found in Ethiopia in the 1970s, for which the spacecraft is named.

“Dinkinesh really did live up to its name; this is marvelous,” Southwest Research Institute’s Hal Levison, the lead scientist, said in a statement.

The discovery was made during Wednesday’s flyby of Dinkinesh, 300 million miles (480 million kilometers) away in the main asteroid belt beyond Mars.
NASA/Goddard/SwRI/SWNS
Dinkinesh means “you are marvelous” in the Amharic language of Ethiopia.
NASA/SWNS

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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