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Do you know what’s inside of an asteroid? Probably some rock things, would be my best guess. For the first time scientists have analysis of the interior of an asteroid, the peanut shaped Itokawa to be precise. It’s been discovered that the space rock is composed of varying layers of density. The 1,775 feet long asteroid was observed using the New Technology Telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, among others, from 2001 to present.
Researcher Stephen Lowry, from Kent State, measured how the asteroid’s brightness varies as it rotates. This allowed the researchers to measure its change in spin rate over more than a decade, and this data was collected to determine the density of the asteroid. The rotation changes by .0045 seconds each year, which is an important discovery. Because Itokawa is peanut shaped, the change in rotation is due to a varied density. Previously scientists had used an overall density idea to study asteroids, but now that we know an asteroid can have variable densities a working model of the formation of the asteroid can be worked out. Or at least, there’s more data to do so.
The findings have already led to scientists theorizing that Itokawa is the result of two asteroids colliding and fusing together at some point in the past. They don’t yet know for sure, but the data collected by telescopes and crafts like Japan’s Hyabusa, which obtained dust grains from the asteroid over a seven year mission that returned to earth in 2010, have put scientists on the path of discovering even more of how our solar system came to be in its present state.
The video below shows the asteroid Itokawa in animated form.