NASA’s Lucy Probe Reveals Secondary Satellite Orbiting Asteroid Dinkinesh

by Joshua Brown
Lucy asteroid moon

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft has unveiled an unexpected companion orbiting the small asteroid Dinkinesh during a recent close approach.

Scientists were intrigued to find that the asteroid Dinkinesh is orbited by a tiny satellite—a small moon.

This revelation emerged from Lucy’s recent proximity pass of Dinkinesh, situated some 300 million miles (approximately 480 million kilometers) away in the principal asteroid belt that lies beyond the orbit of Mars. The probe was approximately 270 miles (roughly 435 kilometers) distant when it captured the image of the duo.

The data relayed back to Earth, along with visuals, established that Dinkinesh spans just under half a mile (close to 790 meters) in diameter. Its moon, tightly bound in its orbit, measures a scant one-tenth of a mile (approximately 220 meters).

Lucy’s journey past Dinkinesh served as a preliminary step in preparation for its subsequent encounters with larger and more enigmatic asteroids positioned near Jupiter. The mission, initiated in 2021, is set to approach its first Trojan asteroid in 2027 and will carry out exploratory activities for a duration of at least six years. With the inclusion of four more targets, the mission’s agenda now includes a total of 11 asteroids.

The moniker Dinkinesh, which signifies “you are marvelous” in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, also refers to the famous Lucy, a 3.2 million-year-old fossil of a human forebear discovered in Ethiopia during the 1970s, which subsequently inspired the spacecraft’s name.

“Dinkinesh certainly honored its name; this finding is truly marvelous,” declared Hal Levison, the principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, in a press release.

The Health and Science Department at The Big Big News is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science and Educational Media. The content herein is solely the responsibility of The AP.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Lucy asteroid moon

What did NASA’s Lucy spacecraft discover during its flyby of the asteroid Dinkinesh?

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft discovered a small moon orbiting the asteroid Dinkinesh, located in the main asteroid belt beyond Mars, during its recent close approach.

How far away is the asteroid Dinkinesh, where the mini-moon was found?

The asteroid Dinkinesh, along with its newly discovered mini-moon, is located about 300 million miles away from Earth in the asteroid belt beyond Mars.

What is the size of the asteroid Dinkinesh and its moon?

Asteroid Dinkinesh measures just under half a mile across, while its orbiting mini-moon is about one-tenth of a mile in size.

What is the purpose of the Lucy spacecraft’s mission?

Lucy’s mission is to conduct flybys of asteroids in the main belt and eventually explore the Trojan asteroids near Jupiter, enhancing our understanding of the solar system’s evolution.

When will Lucy reach the Trojan asteroids and how many will it explore?

Lucy is expected to reach the first of the Trojan asteroids in 2027 and will explore at least six years, with the mission now expanded to include 11 asteroids.

Why is the asteroid named Dinkinesh?

The asteroid is named Dinkinesh, which means “you are marvelous” in Amharic, to honor the spacecraft’s namesake, Lucy, the ancient human ancestor whose remains were found in Ethiopia.

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TommyG November 4, 2023 - 2:02 am

so when are we gonna start mining these asteroids for resources, right?? feels like we find so many but what do we do with that info

Eliza22 November 4, 2023 - 9:57 am

Heard about this on the news, still blows my mind that we can send stuff into space that far and get back pictures, like its no big deal, just another day at NASA, huh

Mike O'Neal November 4, 2023 - 4:13 pm

Can you imagine, a whole moon that’s just a tenth of a mile wide?? I mean, how do they even spot something that small, 300 million miles away, technology these days I guess.

SarahBee November 4, 2023 - 8:26 pm

What I dont get is why they name these space things after old fossils or whatever but its kinda charming in a way, dinkinesh, you are marvelous indeed

Jenny T November 4, 2023 - 11:33 pm

Wow, that’s some really cool news from NASA Didn’t even know they had a spacecraft named Lucy. pretty awesome to think theres a tiny moon out there orbiting an asteroid


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