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New photos of asteroid Kleopatra reveal that it is shaped like a dog bone



new photos of asteroid kleopatra reveal that it is shaped

The most detailed telescope photographs yet of the asteroid Kleopatra — named after the ancient Egyptian queen — clearly show its weird “dog-bone” shape, and astronomers say their studies of it could yield clues about the solar system.

The latest observations of the asteroid, more than 201 million kilometres from Earth in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, have allowed scientists to more accurately measure Kleopatra’s unusual shape and mass.

It’s turned out to be about a third lighter than expected, which gives clues to its composition and formation.

“Asteroids are not inert bodies but complex mini-geological worlds,” Franck Marchis, senior planetary astronomer at California’s SETI Institute, said that the discovery was unexpected.

He is the principal author of a new Kleopatra study, which was published in Astronomy and Astrophysics this month.

“Kleopatra and other weird asteroids are natural laboratories to challenge our knowledge of the solar system and make us think outside the box,” Marchis stated.

Kleopatra, which was discovered in 1880, takes its name from Cleopatra, the Greek alphabet’s original spelling.

Images of Kleopatra viewed from various angles as it rotates. Credit: NBC/European Southern Observatory

It’s relatively large for an asteroid and was observed by Earth-based telescopes for decades to determine its orbit around the sun.

However, radar was only able to confirm its unusual shape a little over ten years ago.

The latest photographs from the European Southern Observatory’s powerful Very Large Telescope in northern Chile provide more detail of its strange shape, with two large lobes connected by a thick “neck,” so that it distinctly resembles a bone.

Kleopatra is roughly 257 km end to end — about the size of the US state of New Jersey — and weighs more than 3,300 trillion tons.

It rotates approximately every five hours. Astronomers predict that if it rotates faster, its lobes could spin apart.

Size comparison of the asteroid Kleopatra with northern Italy.Comparing the size of Kleopatra and northern Italy. Credit: NBC/European Southern Observatory

Marchis said Kleopatra’s unusual shape is a clue to its composition.

“It’s probably a loosely bound asteroid, made of rubble of iron material,” In an email, he stated this.

Researchers believe it could have been formed by the debris of an impact between larger asteroids billions of years back.

A team led by Marchis announced in 2008 that their observations showed Kleopatra also has two small moons, each a few miles across, which they dubbed AlexHelios and CleoSelene after two of the Egyptian queens’ children.

It’s not unusual for asteroids to have moons, or to form “binary systems” where two asteroids orbit each other.

This processed image shows the two moons of the asteroid Kleopatra, middle, AlexHelios and CleoSelene, which appear as two small white dots in the top-right and bottom-left corners of the picture.This image is processed to show the two moons in the asteroid Kleopatra. They are middle, AlexHelios, CleoSelene and middle. The small white dots can be seen in the bottom-right and top-left corners. Credit: NBC/European Southern Observatory

At least 15 asteroids in the main belt are known to have moons, and more than 400 orbiting pairs of asteroids have been found, Marchis said.

According to Marchis, the latest observations allowed astronomers detailed measurements of the orbits for Kleopatra’s moons. These measurements suggest that they are old conglomerations made of rubble, which was spun off by the main asteroid.

In other words, Kleopatra may have “given birth” to its children.

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