That’s right: 124 million miles (200 kilometers) could be a long way for your dog to pick up that cosmic bone. But thanks in part to two powerful telescopes, astronomers were able to inspect the dog-bone-shaped asteroid Kleopatra from afar, revealing the features of the space rock in unprecedented detail.
Using recently obtained images taken with the European Southern Observatory or Very Large Telescope (VLT) planet finder and the Spectro-Polarimetric High Contrast Exoplanet REsearch (SPHERE) observatory, astronomers were able to create the best 3D model to date of the odd shaped asteroid. .
SPHERE captured a series of images of Cleopatra as she spun through the asteroid belt between 2017 and 2019. By imaging from different angles, the researchers were able to get a better overview of the rock in space. . The observations resulted in of them new studies about the distant asteroid, which calculates the asteroid’s length to be around 168 miles (270 km) in diameter, and details how one of Cleopatra’s lobes is larger than the other.
Cleopatra is not only unusual for her shape, but also because she has two moons. The moons, named AlexHelios and CleoSelene (after the real children of Cleopatra) were discovered in 2008. The new result and the resulting model have already shed light on the correct orbits of the moons, correcting the data that predicted them so inaccurate.
Cleopatra’s rotation, along with her rubble heap form, could ultimately provide more information about the formation of the asteroid’s moons. Kleopatra is spinning at critical speed, according to Frank Marchis, a SETI astronomer who published one of the studies in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. This speed could have been so fast that pebbles rose up from the surface, forming the two moons.
Over time, more and more information about Kleopatra and other asteroids will surely emerge. But until then, the Solar System’s dog bone asteroid will retain its appeal.