Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Stargazers spy asteroid with two moons

LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists have spotted an asteroid with more than one moon -- the first discovery of its kind.

Astronomers found a second moonlet orbiting 87 Sylvia, a heavenly body zooming around the sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, according to a Nature magazine report.

Sylvia was previously thought to be one of 60 asteroids with just one moon, said University of California astronomer Franck Marchis, whose team made the discovery in March.

"We were very excited -- it was the strawberry on the cake," Marchis said. "People have been looking for them for more than five years."

Asteroids, regular fodder for Hollywood disaster movies, are believed to form out of material which did not combine to make bigger planets or after collisions between larger objects.

The discovery of Sylvia's second moon, using a telescope in Chile, allows for a clearer picture of the asteroid and its origins and will help to explore the stability of such moons.

It may even have more, smaller satellites swarming around her, Marchis said.

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