Most asteroids travel through space alone, but some are bound by gravity in pairs, usually in the form of a single small body orbiting a larger one.
In rare cases, triple asteroid systems can be found, with two moons orbiting a larger proto-body, and this was the most complex asteroid system to date.
In a recent study, astronomers discovered for the first time an asteroid that has not one or two moons, but three moons, forming a quadruple asteroid system.
The asteroid is called 130 Elektra, or “Elektra” for short, and it was already known to scientists that “Electra” has two moons, but the third moon was hidden in data collected by the Very Large Telescope, of the European Southern Observatory in Chile.
This not only makes it the most numerous asteroid system known to date, but also shows how scientists can find other faint moons of hard-to-see asteroids in the future.
Developed by Anthony Purdue from The National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand A new data-processing algorithm and use it to take a fresh look at the Electra notes from 2014.
Purdue’s work confirmed the two previously known moons and allowed the faint third moon to appear, no longer hidden by the brightness of the main asteroid.
The team of astronomers wrote in their paper: ‘Electra is the first quadrupole system ever discovered. It is not uncommon for asteroids to have smaller companions, although they are very rare to discover. Of the more than 1,100,000 asteroids we have discovered, more are known to be Of the 150 asteroids, there is at least one moon.
Electra, about 260 kilometers (160 miles) in diameter, was first discovered in the main asteroid belt of the solar system between Mars and Jupiter in 1873, but its first moon, named S/2003 (130) 1, was not discovered until 2003. That is, after about 130 years. Then he discovered a second moon, named S/2014 (130) 1, in 2014.
The newly discovered moon, called S/2014 (130) 2, is the smallest and closest to the asteroid, with a width of 1.6 km, compared to 6 km for S/2003 (130) 1 and 2 km for S/2014 (130) 1. It is located at an orbital distance of 340 km and is 15,000 times fainter than the Electra.
It is noteworthy that the small moon revolves around “Electra” every 16.3 hours. “The discovery will help astronomers understand how these moons formed, and in turn provide important information about the formation of planets and the evolution of our solar system,” the European Southern Observatory said in a statement on Monday.
The Electra asteroid system may be the first of its kind to be discovered, but there are likely to be more. Purdue’s data analysis method can be applied to other suspected systems.
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