Gigantic Asteroid Pallas Has Numerous Craters on its Surface

Pallas, the second asteroid to have been identified, is the most massive space rock humans have not yet analyzed by sending a physical tool to its surface​. The asteroid is apparently in the grey area between a space rock and a planet.

Pallas has an incredibly vicious background of several collisions, most probably because of its uncommon orbit, new research says.

Pallas, a.k.a The Golf Ball

Back in 1802 became the second asteroid ever identified. Carrying the Greek goddess’ name, Pallas Athena, the space rock is the third-largest asteroid ever discovered, boasting about seven percent of the mass in the Solar System‘s asteroid belt.

This space rock has an approximate diameter of 318 miles (513 kilometers), which is around 5 percent the size of the Moon. There are lots of unknown elements regarding this large asteroid, but to understand more about it, in new research, scientists used the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research (SPHERE) imager on the Very Large Telescope​ located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile to study the asteroid’s form and surface with accuracy.

Supported by 11 images of the Pallas surface that the team captured, they found out that the asteroid is scarred with several craters spanning from about 18.5 to 75 miles (30 to 120 kilometers) wide. Computer simulations also showcased that Pallas ​has approximately twice as many craters as Ceres, the dwarf planet, which is the largest known space rock.

“Pallas is heavily cratered,” study co-author Miroslav Broz, an astronomer at Charles University in the Czech Republic, said. “Its surface might resemble a golf ball.”

Two massive craters on Pallas ​suggest that the asteroid once encountered gigantic sideways collisions with projectiles around 37 to 65 miles (60 to 90 kilometers) in diameter, the team stated.

“We performed numerical simulations to determine the most probable age of the family, which is 1.7 billion years, and this should correspond to the surface age of Pallas or at least a substantial part of it,” Broz said.

Pallas’ Orbit Could Have Affected It More

Computer simulations of prior impacts in the asteroid belt run by the team as part of this research imply that the objects colliding with Pallas ​were also moving at incredibly high speeds, averaging around 25,725 mph (41,400 km/h​), in comparison to the average velocity of approximately 12,975 (20,880 km/h) ​for collisions that produce craters in the asteroid belt.

Pallas’ peculiar orbit might also be the cause of the asteroid’s so many craters when compared with Ceres and Vesta, the second-largest known space rock. Utilizing the images together with prior estimates of the asteroid’s mass, the team created a 3D model of Pallas ​and discovered that the cosmic object is much denser than Ceres but not that thick as Vesta. 

The asteroid’s massive size implies that it may have preserved heat sufficiently for saltwater to separate out and rise upward. The generated salt deposits in Pallas’ layer may help elucidate a bright spot noticed on the asteroid’s surface, the researchers said.

Following studies will concentrate efforts on other asteroids monitored by VLT/SPHERE, such as Iris, Hygiea, Psyche, Daphne, and Interamnia, Broz said.​ The researchers explained their discoveries in research published on February 10th in the journal Nature Astronomy.

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