A DOUBLE AT DINKINESH. In search of one asteroid, NASA's Lucy finds two.

NASA's Lucy spacecraft zoomed by its first asteroid target on Nov. 1 - and scientists directing the mission were startled to discover that the rock, named Dinkinesh, was actually two rocks.

Images taken by Lucy show a primary asteroid and a smaller ''moon'' orbiting around it.

'' We knew this was going to be the smallest main belt asteroid ever seen up close,'' Keith Noll, an astronomer and Lucy project scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a news release.

'' The fact that it is two makes it even more exciting.''

Lucy's flyby was a pit stop on the way to more ambitious targets : two groups of asteroids called the Trojan swarms.

The Trojans, leftover chunks from the formation of the outer planets, are locked in orbits of the sun along the same path as Jupiter. Lucy is expected to visit nine more space rocks through 2033.

Lucy's encounter with Dinkinesh was  serendipitous. When the spacecraft was launched in 2021, the previously unnamed asteroid was not on its itinerary.

But the mission team found that adjusting Lucy's course in May would direct the spacecraft within 264 miles, or 425  kilometers, of the space rock, which was given the Amharic name for a different Lucy - the skeleton of an early hominid found in East Africa.

As Lucy sped past Dinkinesh, it captured images of the asteroid's surface and measured rock's composition and structure.

Preliminary studies of the images of the binary asteroid pair indicate the bigger rock is a half-mile wide, while its satellite is 0.15 miles wide. [Katrina Miller]


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