Astounding asteroid (216) Kleopatra is as distinctive as the queen after whom it was named, albeit a little less glamorous. One of the world’s largest telescopes has caught photographs indicating that it is shaped like the classic bone dogs gnaw on, making it one of the solar system’s most unusually shaped objects. The findings could help us better understand how asteroids develop.
Gravity makes astronomical objects round above a certain size, as much as flat-earthers may complain. Diversity thrives below this line, but not everything makes it.
Finding anything as long and thin as Kleopatra, with enormous lobes on each end, was surprising enough to warrant time on the European Space Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), the results of which were published in Astronomy and Astrophysics? In a statement, the SETI Institute’s Dr. Frank Marchis noted, “Kleopatra is certainly a unique body in our Solar System.” “The study of strange outliers has helped science advance significantly. I believe Kleopatra is one among them, and gaining a better knowledge of this complicated, multi-asteroid system will help us learn more about our Solar System.”
Kleopatra has two moons; hence Marchis refers to it as a system. Instead of calling these Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, astronomers chose the names of two of Kleopatra’s original offspring, AlexHelios, and CleoSelene.
Kleopatra, as a member of the main asteroid belt, seldom goes close enough to us for a good look, but its distinctive shape was initially noticed using radar 20 years ago, and the moons were discovered in 2008. Marchis and co-authors were able to watch Kleopatra revolve and construct a 3D model of its shape because of the VLT’s incredible resolving capacity. Five occultations, in which Kleopatra veiled the light of a star, aided in the improvement of the situation.
To put the scope of the endeavor in perspective, the team points out that Kleopatra is the size of a golf ball from Earth and is 40 kilometers (24 miles) distant. Marchis, on the other hand, isn’t satisfied, stating he “can’t wait to point the [Extremely Large Telescope] at Kleopatra,” alluding to the astronomical giant set to begin operations in 2027.
Kleopatra is a reasonably massive asteroid by asteroid standard, measuring roughly 270 kilometers (160 miles) in length, but the neck is so narrow that just 13 percent of the volume is contained within it, according to the study. The lobes are nearly identical in size, with only a 16 percent difference.
The two moons’ specific orbits are provided in an accompanying publication, which notes that previous estimations were incorrect, with the VLT rediscovering them in locations other than those projected.
“If the orbits of the moons were inaccurate, everything was wrong, including the mass of Kleopatra,” said Dr. Miroslav Bro of Charles University in Prague, the main author of the second paper. Corrections to the orbits of the two moons resulted in a 56 percent reduction in estimates of Kleopatra’s mass. This is due to the fact that the asteroid, which was originally assumed to be the densest tiny object in the solar system, has a relatively low density.