Asteroid Pallas’ violent history revealed in new images

A huge, heavily cratered asteroid known as Pallas has a violent history, scientists revealed in a new study.

Pallas, which is third largest object in the asteroid belt and named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, can be seen in detailed images published Monday in a study in Nature Astronomy.

Researchers believe that the asteroid’s pockmarked surface is a result of its unique orbit. Pallas has a tilted orbit, so it is basically smashing through the asteroid belt at an angle, unlike most other similar objects.

“Pallas’ orbit implies very high-velocity impacts,” Michaël Marsset, the paper’s lead author and a postdoctoral student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, told MIT News. “From these images, we can now say that Pallas is the most cratered object that we know of in the asteroid belt. It’s like discovering a new world.”

A pair of images show two views of Pallas with its pock-marked surface. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

A pair of images show two views of Pallas with its pock-marked surface. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

The astronomers obtained 11 series of images, observing Pallas from different angles as it rotated. After pulling the images together, the researchers generated a three-dimensional reconstruction of the shape of the asteroid, in addition to a crater map of its poles.

Thirty-six craters larger than 30 kilometers in diameter were identified, the study notes.

The asteroid’s craters seem to cover at least 10 percent of its surface, which the researchers state in their paper is “suggestive of a violent collisional history.”