We could call it a “mini moon”.
In one of NASA’s smaller, but still exciting, discoveries in recent years, a spacecraft visiting a minor asteroid in the solar system discovered that the piece of space rock had its own little sidekick.
The spacecraft, called Lucy, was visiting the asteroid Dinkinesh when it made the unexpected discovery of a lunar companion.
The discovery was made during Wednesday’s flyby of Dinkinesh, 300 meters away in the main asteroid belt beyond Mars. The spacecraft took a photo of the couple when they were about 270 miles away.
In data and images sent back to Earth, the spacecraft confirmed that Dinkinesh is just 790 meters in diameter. Its narrowly rotating moon measures only a tenth of a mile (220 meters).
NASA sent Lucy ahead of Dinkinesh as a rehearsal for visiting larger, more mysterious asteroids near Jupiter.
Launched in 2021, the spacecraft will reach the first of these so-called Trojan asteroids in 2027 and explore them for at least six years. The initial list of seven target asteroids now stands at 11.
Dinkinesh means “you are wonderful” in the Ethiopian Amharic language.
“Dinkinesh really lives up to his name; it’s wonderful,” Hal Levison, senior scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report