A research group has taken photos of the 42 largest objects in the asteroid belt, showing the celestial bodies in greater detail than ever before. With the publication of the images, the team is also celebrating today’s 42nd anniversary of the first publication of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (Douglas Adams). The pictures show very different types of objects – spherical ones and even one in the shape of a dog bone. The collection is a great advance for astronomy and should help to explore the origins of the asteroids of the solar system. In doing so, they should contribute to answering “the ultimate question about life, the universe and all the rest”.
So far largely unexplored
Research director Pierre Vernazza Laboratoire d’Astrophysique from Marseille explains the work with a high level of detail. The space probes Dawn and Rosetta took care of this on site at Ceres, Vesta and Lutetia. For comparable objects in the main asteroid belt, important features such as their three-dimensional shape or their density were therefore largely unknown. In order to close these gaps, between 2017 and 2019 the European Southern Observatory (ESO) used the Very Large Telescope (VLT) to record dozens of large asteroids from Earth. Photos of the particularly unusual asteroid Cleopatra had already been made public a few weeks ago.
Overall, the now in the specialist magazine Astronomy & Astrophysics The compilation presented shows that the asteroids mostly fit into two groups. Some are almost spherical, others are more elongated. In addition, the density of the objects differs significantly and lies between around 1.3 grams per cubic centimeter (Lamberta and Sylvia) and 3.9 or even 4.4 grams per cubic centimeter – i.e. even more than diamond. The composition of the celestial bodies is apparently very different, which suggests differences in origin. The team therefore assumes that the asteroids that were photographed were created in different areas of the solar system and moved to their current position between Mars and Jupiter.