The Most Cratered Object in the Asteroid Belt Looks Like a Golf Ball

by Katherine J. Wu/Smithsonianmag.com

Astronomers just snapped the best images yet of Pallas, one of the solar system’s most infamous asteroids—and it seems the pictures illustrate the object’s remarkably violent past.

Boasting a width of about 318 miles—about 15 percent of the moon’s diameter—Pallas makes up a whopping 7 percent of the total mass of the asteroid belt. Researchers have known about this absolute cosmic unit, which whirls around the sun with a tiny entourage of smaller objects, for more than two centuries. But in spite of its size, the asteroid has proved difficult to study.

Now, with the help of the SPHERE instrument at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, a team of researchers has homed in on some of the beauty marks speckling the asteroid’s surface. Their findings, described in a study published this week in Nature Astronomy, reveal Pallas as the most cratered object in the asteroid belt—a title it’s almost certainly earned by bashing into some of its neighbors.

“This first detailed images of the Pallas suggest that the asteroid had a violent past,” study author Franck Marchis, a planetary scientist at MIT, says in a statement.

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