A small asteroid visited by NASA’s Lucy spacecraft in November had a big surprise for scientists.
Asteroid Dinginesh has a tiny companion: a minimoon.
The discovery came during Wednesday’s flyby of Dinginesh, 300 million miles away in the main asteroid belt beyond Mars.
The photo was taken when the ship was about 435 kilometers away.
In data and images sent back to Earth, the spacecraft confirmed that Dinginesh is just half a mile (790 meters) in diameter.
Its moon, orbiting it closely, measures only 220 meters.
NASA sent Lucy past Dinginesh as a probe for large, mysterious asteroids near Jupiter.
Launching in 2021, the spacecraft will reach the first of these Trojan asteroids in 2027 and explore them for at least six years. The original list of seven asteroids is now eleven.
Dinginesh means “you are wonderful” in the Amharic language of Ethiopia.
Lucy is the Amharic name for a 3.2-million-year-old human ancestor discovered in Ethiopia in the 1970s, after which the spacecraft is named.
“Dinginesh lives up to his name: he’s amazing,” said Hal Levison, chief scientist at Southwest Research Institute.