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New observations show the asteroid Hygiea is round!

28 Oct 2019, 16:00 UTC
New observations show the asteroid Hygiea is round!
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Between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter is the main asteroid belt, composed of gazillions of objects, mostly made of rock and metal and, to a much smaller degree, ice. On the small end there's no real definitive limit; something the size of a basketball there may technically be an asteroid, I suppose. At the upper size range are objects hundreds of kilometers wide, including the largest object there, Ceres, at 940 kilometers in diameter. The second and third largest objects there are Vesta and Pallas (~525 and 510 km wide; note that both are oblong, so these diameters are averages).

Fourth is Hygiea. It's a bit more difficult to observe from Earth because it's smaller, but also because it's darker, making it dimmer, and has an orbit that takes it relatively farther out. Of the big rocks out there, it may be the least well studied.

However, astronomers have recently observed Hygiea using an amazing camera called ZIMPOL, part of a suite of camera called SPHERE on the aptly named Very Large Telescope. This provides stunning resolution — in fact, when it was used to look at other asteroid belt objects not long ago, I had to make sure ...

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