All the time, astronomers come across interesting types of asteroids that make these celestial bodies an intriguing subject of study. However, the latest research led to the discovery of an unusual asteroid with a strange surface that forced them to name it the "golf ball."
According to the Independent, the scientists who have discovered this celestial object are describing it "like discovering a new world." It is said to be the most heavily cratered object they have ever witnessed in the asteroid belt in our solar system where most of the asteroids are spotted orbiting the sun.
The details of the discovery were published in Nature Astronomy by astronomers and researchers at MIT. As per the new study, the third biggest object in the Main Asteroid Belt is a one-of-a-kind asteroid that features holes and mysterious "bright spots" on its surface, resembling the shape of a golf ball.
The object was first discovered in the year 1802 by German astronomer Heinrich Olbers. Even though the details remained a mystery, it was concluded that it is the third biggest asteroid after Ceres and Vesta and was named Pallas after Greek Goddess Athena. For centuries, astronomers and researchers have tried to look deeper into Pallas' composition but did not succeed. However, this new study sheds light on this astronomical object and has unravelled the surface in images for the first time.
Researchers believe that Pallas' tilted orbit could be the reason for its heavily cratered surface. Unlike other objects in the main asteroid belt that is roughly located between Mars and Jupiter, Pallas follows a tilted journey around the sun which leads to collisions and causes damage to the surface.
"Pallas' orbit implies very high-velocity impacts," says Michaël Marsset, the paper's lead author and a postdoc in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences in a statement as published on MIT's official website. "From these images, we can now say that Pallas is the most cratered object that we know of in the asteroid belt. It's like discovering a new world," he adds.
The team of researchers that has finally solved Pallas' mystery included contributors from 21 research institutions around the world. Meanwhile, Pierre Vernazza of the Laboratoire d'Astrophyisque de Marseille in France was the principal investigator of the team.
The research was based on 11 images of Pallas that were obtained by the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument (SPHERE) on the ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT). The images were taken in the years 2017 and 2019 at the time when it was closest to the Earth.
Using these images, the team developed 3D reconstructions of asteroid's structure and identified 36 large craters that are larger than 30 kilometres in diameter. These craters cover at least 10 percent of the Pallas' surface. As per the researchers, these craters are "suggestive of a violent collisional history" of the asteroid.