The small asteroid visited by NASA’s Lucy spacecraft in November was a big surprise to scientists.
It turns out that asteroid Dinkenish has a little companion: a small moon.
The discovery came during Wednesday’s flyby of Dinkenish, 300 million miles away, in the main asteroid belt beyond Mars.
The ship took a photo when it was about 435 kilometers away.
In data and images sent back to Earth, the spacecraft confirmed that Dinkenish was only half a mile (790 meters) in diameter.
Its moon, which closely surrounds it, is only 220 meters across.
NASA sent Lucy beyond Dinkenish as a test for larger, more mysterious asteroids near Jupiter.
The spacecraft will be launched in 2021, 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.
Dinkenesh means “You are wonderful” in the Amharic language of Ethiopia.
It is also the Amharic name for Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old remains of a human ancestor found in Ethiopia in the 1970s, and after which the spacecraft is named.
“Dinkenish lives up to his name: he’s cool,” said Hal Levison, chief scientist at the Southwest Research Institute.
“Proud web fanatic. Subtly charming twitter geek. Reader. Internet trailblazer. Music buff.”