September 11, 2005

Ooooooh, shiny!

New Hubble images of Ceres show that the largest known asteroid is more like a planet than like other asteroids.

Hubble photos of the asteroid Ceres
That's some big asteroid you got there. [Imaging: NASA, ESA, J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute), P. Thomas (Cornell University), and L. McFadden (University of Maryland, College Park)]

Observations of 1 Ceres, the largest known asteroid, have revealed that the object may be a "mini planet," and may contain large amounts of pure water ice beneath its surface.

The observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope also show that Ceres shares characteristics of the rocky, terrestrial planets like Earth. Ceres' shape is almost round like Earth's, suggesting that the asteroid may have a "differentiated interior," with a rocky inner core and a thin, dusty outer crust.

"Ceres is an embryonic planet," said Lucy A. McFadden of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park and a member of the team that made the observations. "Gravitational perturbations from Jupiter billions of years ago prevented Ceres from accreting more material to become a full-fledged planet."

And no, scientists don't know what's causing that shiny spot that appears in all four images.

Several versions of the Ceres images, many larger than the one above and some optimized for printing, are available here.

Via HubbleSite.

Posted by Magpie at September 11, 2005 01:26 AM | Shiny Things | Technorati links |