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Have astronomers discovered an asteroid with three moons?

The uncertainty of science: According to a New York Times article published yesterday, astronomers have now discovered an asteroid with three moons, making it the first such asteroid ever discovered.

The asteroid, Electra, was first discovered in 1873, and orbits the Sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It was already known that it had two moons. The new research thinks it has found a third.

In reading the researchers’ the actual paper describing this research, it appears that the Times is spinning the data, making it sound more certain than it is. This new result comes entirely from new software that was designed to better resolve archival images of the asteroid, and thus carries a lot of uncertainty. From the paper’s conclusion:

[There remain] a lot of uncertainties remain concerning the orbit of S3 [the new asteroid moon]. More data on S2 and S3, as well as a more thorough dynamical study are necessary to solve the problem of the motion of the satellites of Elektra. However, the discovery of the first quadruple asteroid system slightly opens the way for understanding the mechanisms of the formation of these satellites.

In terms of data processing, S3 is barely visible in the data reduced with the standard pipeline and processed with standard halo removal algorithms and it was missed until now.

The paper repeatedly notes that the orbital data for Electra and its moons is presently “poorly constrained” and needs significant refinement in order to confirm this result.

If true, however, these moons are probably pieces that broke off of Electra at some point in the past, and could provide good information about the long term history of asteroids in the asteroid belt.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!

 

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

 

Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

Readers: the rules for commenting!

 

No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.

 

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