NASA’s Lucy spacecraft was greeted with an unexpected sight during its recent flyby of the asteroid Dinkinesh – a tiny moon orbiting it. This discovery was made 300 million miles away in the asteroid belt situated beyond Mars. As the spacecraft approached within 270 miles of the asteroid, it captured images of the asteroid and its newly discovered satellite.
Upon analyzing the data and images sent back to Earth, researchers confirmed that the asteroid Dinkinesh measures roughly half a mile in diameter, with its orbiting moon being only about one-tenth of a mile wide. This finding was part of a preparatory mission for Lucy, as it gears up to investigate the larger and enigmatic Trojan asteroids located near Jupiter.
The mission, which launched in 2021, is scheduled to encounter the first of these Trojan asteroids in 2027 and will conduct explorations for a minimum of six years. With this new moon, the list of Lucy’s targets, which initially included seven asteroids, has now expanded to 11.
The name Dinkinesh, meaning “you are marvelous” in Amharic – the official language of Ethiopia – aptly reflects the spacecraft’s namesake, the ancient human ancestor Lucy, whose remains were unearthed in Ethiopia during the 1970s. Hal Levison from the Southwest Research Institute, the mission’s principal investigator, echoed this sentiment, stating that Dinkinesh indeed proved its name to be true with such a marvelous revelation.