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What astronomers mean by “rubble pile asteroids”

20 May 2019, 13:00 UTC
What astronomers mean by “rubble pile asteroids” NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

When I was a kid, the general idea about asteroids — at least among the public — is that they were big, monolithic chunks of rock and/or metal orbiting the Sun. If you happened to come upon one in your spaceship (which happened by accident all the time thanks to movies and TV shows) it would be vaguely spherical, and covered in smooth lumps and eroded craters.

That turns out not to be the case. Maybe really big ones look a little bit like that (I'm thinking Vesta and Ceres, but really planetary scientists consider them protoplanets and not asteroids), but many, perhaps most of the smaller ones are nothing at all like that.

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