First discovered asteroid with three moons

(ORDO NEWS) — An asteroid discovered in the 19th century has just been identified as the most populous asteroid ever discovered.

It’s called 130 Electra, or just Electra for short, and astronomers have just discovered that it has not one or two, but three smaller satellites, or moons.

This not only makes it the most numerous asteroid system known to date, but also demonstrates how we may find other faint, hard-to-see asteroid satellites in the future.

“Electra is the first quadruple system ever discovered,” a team of astronomers led by Anthony Berdeu of Thailand’s National Institute of Astronomical Research wrote in their paper.

“This new finding…shows that special data reduction and processing algorithms that model the physics of instruments can further push the limits of their contrast.”

It is not uncommon for asteroids to have smaller moons, although they are quite rare to find. Of the more than 1,100,000 asteroids we have discovered, more than 150 are known to have at least one moon.

About 260 kilometers in diameter, Electra was first discovered in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter in 1873, but its first moon, named S/2003 (130) 1, was not discovered until 2003, 130 years later. Its second satellite S/2014 (130) 1 was discovered in 2014.

First discovered asteroid with three moons 2                                  Asteroid Electra and its three satellites. (ESO/Berdeu et al., Jan et al.)

S/2003 (130) 1 is only 6 kilometers in diameter and orbits Electra at an average distance of about 1,300 kilometers; S/2014 (130) 1 has a diameter of only 2 km and a mean orbital distance of 500 km.

The newly discovered satellite is called S/2014 (130) 2, and it is even smaller and closer: only 1.6 km across and at a mean orbital distance of 340 km. It is also 15,000 times dimmer than Electra.


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