Home » Astronomers Make Surprising Discovery During NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft’s Flyby of Dinkinesh

Astronomers Make Surprising Discovery During NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft’s Flyby of Dinkinesh

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Astronomers Make Surprising Discovery During NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft’s Flyby of Dinkinesh

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft made a surprising discovery during a flyby of the small asteroid Dinkinesh in November. It turns out that Dinkinesh has a moon of its own, which scientists are describing as a “minimoon.” The moon was spotted in images sent back to Earth from the spacecraft when it was approximately 435 kilometers away from asteroid Dinkinesh. The main asteroid belt beyond Mars, where Dinkinesh is located, is 300 million miles away from Earth.

The asteroid itself is just half a mile (790 meters) in diameter, while its smaller moon measures about 220 meters. The sighting of the minimoon came as NASA’s Lucy spacecraft was sent past Dinkinesh to test the waters for larger, more mysterious asteroids in the orbit of Jupiter. Launched in 2021, Lucy is set to reach the first of these Trojan asteroids in 2027 and will spend at least six years exploring them. The mission was originally planned to explore seven asteroids but has since expanded to eleven.

The asteroid’s name, Dinkinesh, translates to “you are wonderful” in the Amharic language of Ethiopia. It is also the Amharic name for Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old human ancestor remains found in Ethiopia in the 1970s, after which the spacecraft is named. “Dinkinesh lives up to his name: he’s wonderful,” said Hal Levison, chief scientist at the Southwest Research Institute.

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