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NASA unveils images of giant 'dog bone' asteroid

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View  from a radar-based computer model of asteroid Kleopatra (Click for larger view)  
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NASA movie of asteroid Kleopatra

 
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May 5, 2000
Web posted at: 10:54 a.m. EDT (1454 GMT)

WASHINGTON -- Images of a metallic, dog bone-shaped rock the size of New Jersey, an apparent leftover from an ancient, violent cosmic collision, were released by NASA on Thursday.

As asteroids go, this one is a monster. Named Kleopatra, it measures 135 miles (217 km) long and about 58 miles (94 km) wide. As images go, NASA's are the first ever radar images of an asteroid from the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, NASA said in a statement.

Astronomers have known about Kleopatra's existence since 1880, but never knew its shape. This was determined by bouncing radar signals off the asteroid from the massive telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

These new radar images were taken when Kleopatra was about 106 million miles (171 million km) from Earth. NASA scientists said there was no chance of it ever colliding with Earth.

"With its dog bone shape, Kleopatra is one of the most unusual asteroids we've seen in the solar system," said Dr. Steven Ostro of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, who led a team of astronomers observing Kleopatra with the 305-meter (1,000-foot) telescope of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. "Kleopatra could be the remnant of an incredibly violent collision between two asteroids that did not completely shatter and disperse all the fragments."

Kleopatra is one of several dozen asteroids whose coloring suggests they contain metal. Kleopatra's strong reflection of radar signals indicates it is mostly metal, possibly a nickel-iron alloy, NASA said.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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