Surprise! Asteroid ‘Dinky’ is actually a double, NASA’s Lucy probe reveals (photo) | Space

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The first-ever asteroid encounter of NASA’s Lucy mission came with a twist, it turns out.

On Wednesday (Nov. 1), Lucy zoomed past Dinkinesh, a small space rock that resides in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Actually, Lucy zoomed past two space rocks, for the probe found that Dinkinesh (whose name means “marvelous” in the Amharic language) is actually part of a binary system. The discovery added another layer of excitement to an already-historic encounter.

“We knew this was going to be the smallest main belt asteroid ever seen up close,” Keith Noll, Lucy project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement today (Nov. 2).

“The fact that it is two makes it even more exciting. In some ways, these asteroids look similar to the near-Earth asteroid binary Didymos and Dimorphos that DART saw, but there are some really interesting differences that we will be investigating,” Noll added, referring to NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, which slammed intentionally into the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos in September 2022.

Related: NASA’s LUCY mission snaps its asteroid targets for the 1st time

A series of images of the binary asteroid pair, Dinkinesh, as seen by the terminal tracking camera (T2CAM) on NASA’s Lucy spacecraft during its closest approach on Nov. 1, 2023. The images were taken 13 seconds apart. The apparent motion of the two asteroids is due to the motion of the spacecraft as it flew past at 10,000 mph (4.5 km/s). These images have been sharpened and processed to enhance contrast. (Image credit: NASA/Goddard/SwRI/ASU)

Lucy launched in October 2021 on a mission to fly by a half-dozen Trojan asteroids, space rocks that loop around the sun in Jupiter‘s orbit. These asteroids are relics from the solar system’s early days, so Lucy’s observations will shed light on the formation and evolution of our cosmic neighborhood, NASA officials say.

Dinkinesh is not a Trojan, but Wednesday’s flyby was still…

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