A study recently published in Nature Astronomy reveals images of an asteroid called Pallas — one that, it turns out, looks like a giant golf ball. The appearance is due to a large number of craters on the asteroid’s surface, one so full of pockmarks that it looks like it was aggressively damaged. The asteroid, which is named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, was discovered in the early 1800s.
Pallas was the second asteroid discovered and it is among the largest found in our Solar System. The celestial body has a radius of around 169 miles; it is only slightly less massive than the asteroid Vesta. It is well known that this asteroid has a tilted orbit, but the reasons for this haven’t been discovered.
We do, however, now have a detailed idea of what Pallas looks like due to newly published images revealing a cratered body. Researchers explain that this heavily damaged surface is likely a direct result of the asteroid’s tilted orbit; it has spent a huge period of time smashing into other objects in the asteroid belt.
At this point in time, Pallas has the distinction of being the most cratered known object in the asteroid belt. The images were made possible using the SPHERE instrument available at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope array, which is located in Chile and comprised of four different telescopes.
It took two observing runs to grab 11 series of images of Pallas, which was then reconstructed in 3D using the photos. The researchers spied a total of 36 craters with a diameter of more than a kilometer each. One of the craters measures 40 kilometers across, according to the study.