This is a space matryoshka doll
The American Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) shared the latest news about the Lucy spacecraft. Let us recall that on November 1, 2023, the probe successfully completed its flyby of Dinkinesh, the first asteroid in the busy 12-year program of the Lucy probe. The data transmitted to Earth shows more and more surprises for scientists.
First , it was discovered that the asteroid was actually double – Dinkinesh was discovered to have a natural satellite. Now the Lucy mission team has announced a new surprise. As it turns out, Dinkinesh’s smaller moon is itself a binary system known as a “close binary.” This means that Dinkinesh consists not of one or two, but of three components – a main asteroid and a double satellite.
“We never suspected anything so strange!”: the debut asteroid in NASA’s Lucy space tour continues to bring surprises
Lucy principal investigator Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute said:
This is puzzling to say the least. I would never have expected the system to look like this. In particular, I don’t understand why the two satellite components are the same size. The scientific community will be interested in understanding this.
Lucy detected a third component in the asteroid system six minutes after it took images that initially showed Dinkinesh was not alone. During this time, the probe traveled 1545 km from the point where it discovered the first satellite of Dinkinesh.
Close binary systems appear to be quite common in our solar system, but until Dinkinesh, scientists had not seen one orbiting another asteroid, said John Spencer, deputy head of the project. He emphasized:
We puzzled over the strange changes in Dinkinesh’s brightness that we saw as we approached. This gave us a hint that Dinkinesh might have some kind of companion, but we never suspected anything so strange!
The tiny asteroid in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter was named Dinkinesh only in February 2023. Initially, Dinkinesh was not part of the plan for the 12-year tour. It was added to the route only in January 2023 to test the tracking system. Lucy is planned to visit 9 more asteroids over the next 12 years.
After visiting Dinkinesh, Lucy headed towards Earth for gravitational acceleration, which will help approach the second target asteroid – 52246 Donaldjohanson (Donald Johanson). The next flyby will take place in 2025. Lucy will then travel to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, the first of which the mission will reach in 2027.