Skip to comments.Mystery Asteroid, Hermes, May Have a Partner
Posted on 10/23/2003 1:58:58 PM PDT by Pyro7480
Astronomers have apparently discovered an interesting twist to one of the greatest asteroid mysteries of all time. Hermes, a space rock lost to science for 66 years and recently rediscovered, could actually be a pair of orbiting asteroids, new radar observations suggest.
Hermes had not been seen since its 1937 discovery until found anew in a collaborative effort last week. Once Hermes was recovered, astronomers around the world began observing it to take advantage of its relative proximity.
The latest look at Hermes, also named 1937 UB, comes from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The radar observations were made Oct. 18 and 20 and show, according to a preliminary assessment, a "strongly bifurcated" appearance. The images have not yet been released to the public.
"Our images show two separate components of roughly equal sizes, consistent with an orbiting binary pair," a team of astronomers wrote to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams.
The astronomers estimate that each asteroid is about 980 to 1,480 feet (300-450 meters) in diameter, or possibly just over a quarter-mile. But, they caution, additional data are needed to verify whether the object is really a pair.
When Hermes was recovered last week and thought to be a single object, astronomers estimated its diameter at 0.62 to 1.24 miles (1-2 kilometers).
Though he didn't know it at the time, Brian Skiff of the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search program (LONEOS) in Arizona was responsible for the rediscovery of Hermes. Skiff said Hermes had been the "number one" unsolved mystery for asteroid scientists.
"It was the last of the 'lost' Holy Grail asteroids," Skiff told SPACE.com.
Asteroid hunters around the world have been on a quest over the past decade to find 90 percent of the estimated 1,000 or so large asteroids -- 0.62 miles or 1 kilometer -- thought to roam the general space through which Earth orbits. These large near-Earth asteroids have the potential to one day devastate a region of Earth and affect the global climate. Well more than half have been found and none are known to be on a collision course.
Asteroid experts won't be too surprised to learn now that Hermes may have a partner.
Dancing asteroids, known as binaries, are not uncommon. A study last year estimated that 16 percent of near-Earth asteroids are actually double trouble. Hermes -- be it a loner or a pair -- is now on NASA (news - web sites)'s list of potentially hazardous asteroids. It will not hit the planet in the next 100 years, astronomers have determined, but its course thereafter is not known with certainty.
For years, scientists have pondered the added difficulty of dealing with a binary asteroid that might one day take aim on Earth. No one has come up with a proven plan for deflecting a lone space rock, however, let alone a pair.
More to come
Hermes was discovered in 1937 by German astronomer Karl Reinmuth. A few days later it was out of sight, and astronomers didn't have enough information about its path to find it for more than six decades, even though, they know now, it made repeated passes relatively close to the planet.
The new Arecibo observations were made by a team from the University of California, Los Angeles, the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Later this year, Hermes will pass within about nine times the distance from Earth to the Moon. It travels on an elliptical orbit that takes it across Venus' orbit and then well out into the solar system.
More observations from Arecibo and other telescopes are expected. Even astronomers with large backyard telescopes -- perhaps 8 inches or bigger -- will be able to spot Hermes later this month.
Amazing! . . . Even someone with an 8" scope could have found it on one of its passes that were relatively close to earth, yet it was lost for 66 years. There are still lots of important discoveries a rank amateur can make out there, ladies and gentlemen -- if you're so inclined.
We need to start immediately demanding legislation allowing them to marry!!
Wouldn't it be odd
if this one is the space ship
and they pull over
to try and pick up
their friends the Heaven's Gate cult
that's expecting them...