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This is the most violent object in the solar system

A pair of images show two views of Pallas with its pock-marked surface.
A pair of images show two views of Pallas with its pock-marked surface.
(Image: © Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

New images reveal that one of the strangest asteroids in the solar system is also the most covered in craters.

Pallas, at 318 miles (512 kilometers) in diameter, is the third-largest asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, accounting for about 7% of the region's mass. When Pallas was discovered in 1802, it was just the second asteroid ever found, and its discoverer, German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Matthäus Olbers, originally classified it as a planet. 

Pallas has long been known to follow a strange path through space. It plunges in and out of the main belt as it follows a path around the sun that's heavily skewed compared to the orbits of the planets. Pallas flings itself northward and southward above and below the plane of Earth's orbit around the sun, and a collection of smaller objects trails the asteroid. 

Now, new images show the consequences of that idiosyncratic journey.

"From these images, we can now say that Pallas is the most cratered object that we know of in the asteroid belt. It's like discovering a new world," MIT astronomer Michaël Marsset, lead author of a paper describing the images, said in a statement.

Related: Images: Russian meteor explosion

Asteroids in the asteroid belt move very fast. But they also tend to have highly similar orbits, the researchers wrote. When these space rocks slam into one another, the collisions can be cataclysmic, producing craters, but most of that speed is canceled out.

It's a bit like driving a truck at 80 mph (129 km/h) down a highway and the car next to you, driving 82 mph (132 km/h), swerving a bit and knocking its bumper into yours: It would cause some damage, but as long as both drivers kept control of their vehicles, everyone would probably be OK. Just as the vehicles would have some dings, objects in the asteroid belt often have lots of craters resulting from collisions. Some of those pockmarks are quite big. But Pallas' has an unreasonable number of huge craters.

When Pallas passes, it's as if a freight train plowed diagonally across that highway at speed, blasting cars t into shards of steel and plastic, and then continuing on its merry way mostly unbothered thanks to its huge momentum. Billions of years of this pattern, which occurs twice every time Pallas orbits the sun, has left the asteroid so pockmarked that it looks like a golf ball in the low-resolution images.

Pallas experiences two to three times more collisions than Ceres or Vesta, the two largest objects in the asteroid belt, and "its tilted orbit is a straightforward explanation for the very weird surface that we don't see on either of the other two asteroids," Marsset said.

The images, captured using the SPHERE instrument at the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile, show that Pallas has at least 36 craters that are larger than 18 miles (30 kilometers) in diameter, including a 250-mile-wide (400 km) impact crater on the asteroid's equator likely made by a collision with a 25-mile-wide (40 km) object. Pallas also has a bright spot on its southern hemisphere that researchers suspect may be a big salt deposit. The paper was published Feb. 10 in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Originally published on Live Science.

  • Leon Nayr
    Yes, the universe is indeed weird. The more we get to know, the more we know that we don't know. Or, as Hamlet said to Horatio “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”: Shakespeare - Hamlet (1.5.167-8).
    Reply
  • knowledge
    Leon Nayr said:
    Yes, the universe is indeed weird. The more we get to know, the more we know that we don't know. Or, as Hamlet said to Horatio “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”: Shakespeare - Hamlet (1.5.167-8).
    You are soooo right. Watched a program on Smithsoniam and it dealt with string theory and 4th dimensions. Lord I wish I had a brain like that.
    Reply
  • Starfire777
    It is amazing that We call the UNIVERSE "WEIRD" with All it's violent Explosives activity through out the Universe. The reason it is NOT weird to me, even EINSTEIN acknowledge that fact.He said that "GOD" does not Play dice with the "COSMOS" that we Observe in the Universe It is the Divine Display of GOD"S Power.A noted Stanford Scientist said that OUR SOLAR SYSTEM is in a "GOLDILOCK" Zone that Protects us from these violent Forces such as GAMMA RAY RAYS given off an explosive NUETRON STAR or Get too close to "BLACK HOLES" that would Suck in the entire Earth, we are in a Protective ZONE and THAT is a MIRACLE at that!!.These Problems that scientist "SEE" they refuse to believe in a Devine CREATOR that Created the Universe and our EARTH as Mentioned at GENESIS 1:1 "In the Beginning GOD Created the Heavens and EARTH.
    Reply
  • Bruno Ma
    Starfire777 said:
    It is amazing that We call the UNIVERSE "WEIRD" with All it's violent Explosives activity through out the Universe. The reason it is NOT weird to me, even EINSTEIN acknowledge that fact.He said that "GOD" does not Play dice with the "COSMOS" that we Observe in the Universe It is the Divine Display of GOD"S Power.A noted Stanford Scientist said that OUR SOLAR SYSTEM is in a "GOLDILOCK" Zone that Protects us from these violent Forces such as GAMMA RAY RAYS given off an explosive NUETRON STAR or Get too close to "BLACK HOLES" that would Suck in the entire Earth, we are in a Protective ZONE and THAT is a MIRACLE at that!!.These Problems that scientist "SEE" they refuse to believe in a Devine CREATOR that Created the Universe and our EARTH as Mentioned at GENESIS 1:1 "In the Beginning GOD Created the Heavens and EARTH.
    You speak the TRUTH Starfire777.
    Reply
  • Nytowl223
    Starfire777 said:
    It is amazing that We call the UNIVERSE "WEIRD" with All it's violent Explosives activity through out the Universe. The reason it is NOT weird to me, even EINSTEIN acknowledge that fact.He said that "GOD" does not Play dice with the "COSMOS" that we Observe in the Universe It is the Divine Display of GOD"S Power.A noted Stanford Scientist said that OUR SOLAR SYSTEM is in a "GOLDILOCK" Zone that Protects us from these violent Forces such as GAMMA RAY RAYS given off an explosive NUETRON STAR or Get too close to "BLACK HOLES" that would Suck in the entire Earth, we are in a Protective ZONE and THAT is a MIRACLE at that!!.These Problems that scientist "SEE" they refuse to believe in a Devine CREATOR that Created the Universe and our EARTH as Mentioned at GENESIS 1:1 "In the Beginning GOD Created the Heavens and EARTH.
    Please, do try to keep your deity of choice out of scientific discussions. Your hypothetical god cannot be studied, tested, measured, or otherwise proven to exist (or even proven *not* to exist, as there is no way to study it), while science is built on what CAN be studied, tested, measured, and proven or disproven.

    No one can force you to stop believing in your magical friend, but, as you cannot even produce a way to test such a thing, it doesn't belong in science.
    Reply
  • Nytowl223
    Bruno Ma said:
    You speak the TRUTH Starfire777.
    How, exactly, do you determine the factual existence of this "truth" being spoken, as what is being discussed has no corporeal existence, cannot be measured, studied, tested, or otherwise proven to exist (or even not to exist, as there's that untestable part), and so its truthiness, shall we say, isn't provable one way or another? Faith, while comforting in the dark of night with the scary world outside, really has no place in science.
    Reply
  • Starfire777
    Nytowl223 said:
    Please, do try to keep your deity of choice out of scientific discussions. Your hypothetical god cannot be studied, tested, measured, or otherwise proven to exist (or even proven *not* to exist, as there is no way to study it), while science is built on what CAN be studied, tested, measured, and proven or disproven.

    No one can force you to stop believing in your magical friend, but, as you cannot even produce a way to test such a thing, it doesn't belong in science.
    What you just told Me is YOUR Personal Opinion many Famous Scientist Have Included :GOD" in their Discussion of Science,For instance MR> HAWKINS in his recent Book ""HISTORY OF TIME" said "GOD must have created the UNIVERSE for MANKINDS ENJOYMENT" EINSTEIN used the word GOD in his discussions Quote "GOD DOES NOT PLAY DICE WITH THE COSMOS" . ALSO it is of INTEREST.An interesting discussion by Scientist is on U-TUBE "MATTER and ANTIMATTER towards the End of their Discussion of this Subject They ADMITTED that the "HAND of GOD" played a Role in the outworking of Creating the UNIVERSE Also it is of Interest that Scientist have Noticed that the Entire Universe outworking Have explained By Mathematics such as E=Mc2, TABLE of ELEMENTS are in an Orderly arrangements made EINSTEIN Comment that a "GREAT MIND" out there New HIS Mathematics. To say that "GOD" cannot be STUDIED and ANALYSE for "PROOF" of "EVIDENSE" is WISHFUL Thinking He is referred to as "GOD" Almighty,OMNIPOTENT is without Beginning or End ETERNAL etc. etc. BUT We CAN SEE EVIDENCE of GODS POWER ALL Around us.HE gave us HIS WORD the Bible so we can get to Know HIM!Of Course we cannot change the "MIND" of an "ATHEIST" Who Prefers Unscientific think CLOUDS his Mind!
    Reply
  • Curious
    Scientists you mentioned were atheists, like all scientists who are honest and professional. The scientific approach implies testing, measuring, understanding, and religious crooked pseudo-scientists are only imagining theories so they can collect money during their "scientific" lectures in churches. Amen.
    Too bad... blinded by religion you don't see the truth behind those cruel ancient mythologies where, as an example, a deity makes a bunch of uneducated ancient people kill his son for he made such cruel laws so we still need to participate in his drama...
    Now imagine the Universe - so vast! We are like bacteria spread over this small planet, yet some MIGHTY LORD HIMSELF comes to us and starts teaching how and whom to kill, makes these medieval laws, murders children and so on. What a mess there in heavens! But no love, no kindness, no communication to those who like to explore. Just believe and thou shall be saved. Don't you find it primitive? Why can't you be open to see that?
    Reply
  • Starfire777
    Obviously you have NOT read ALL the Bible Accounts, the one you were referring to was completely taken OUT of Context. Abraham in sacrificing his own Son, did NOT take Place but Illustrate GOD'S LOVE for ALL Mankind By Sacrificing His Son for the Salvation of MANKIND at JOHN 3:16 "GOD LOVED the WORLD SO MUCH THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON" Those who BELIEVE shall Gain ETERNAL LIFE,That sounds quite Different from YOUR Conclusion. In the :GARDEN OF EDEN, we learned that ADAM and EVE BOTH refused ti OBEY GOD that brought Condemnation and Death to All Mankind,GOD Mercifully arrange for all Mankind Desendents to Gain Savation thru a MESSIAH in Time
    Reply
  • Curious
    Only a believer in the Jewish mythology can "buy" that. There are 3,000 gods and such stories - one is more ridiculous than another, what made you chose that one? Your ethnicity, place of birth, traditions and upbringing?

    What if I am Indian and all these stories are far and far away from what millions of us have believed for centuries and thousands of years. And our Deity never wants death, never makes mistakes... Imagine there are so many nations that have lived in their own misguided religions, why would they buy your story, which is so unnecessarily cruel. The God of the Universe can't even tell the same story to all nations. We are all to ourselves to chose which one is more likely to be the truth - or are all of them made up by humans?
    Reply