US space agency NASA’s Lucy mission has delivered one of the many exciting discoveries that are awaited and expected from the probe spacecraft. Lucy’s team has detected that one of the Trojan asteroids around Jupiter has its own satellite.
Launched in October 2021, Lucy, after its completion, will become the first human-made spacecraft to visit more asteroids than any previous mission. One of Lucy’s targets, Polymele, in March this year, revealed a small companion, which looked like the asteroid’s own moon.
The companion rock is reported to be roughly 200 kilometres away from Polymele and is 5 kilometres in diameter. Polymele itself is 27 kilometres in diameter, according to its widest axis. The moon is not named yet as astronomers are yet to define the nature and characteristic of the rock.
At the time of observation, Polymele was outlined by the star behind it. Scientists are studying the occultation. The astronomers started measuring the location, size, and shape of the target Trojan asteroid when two observers detected something unusual.
“We were thrilled that 14 teams reported the star blink out as it passed behind the asteroid, but as we analysed the data, we saw that two of the observations were not like the others. Those two observers detected an object around 200 kilometres away from Polymele. It had to be a satellite,” said Marc Buie, Lucy occultation lead, in a statement.
Based on the last observation, the asteroid was 770 million kilometres away from Earth. Lucy is estimated to reach the asteroid by 2027. Lucy set out on a journey to visit one main belt of asteroids and six Trojan asteroids. With time, this number has increased. Now, with the discovery of a moon accompanying Polymele, Lucy is on the path to visit nine asteroids in totality of its 12-year-long voyage.
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