A huge asteroid which is around a seventh of the size of the Moon has surprised astronomers with its violent history. The space rock is known as Pallas, named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, was first discovered in 1802.
Pallas orbits the Sun in the asteroid belt – the disc full of space rocks located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter – and is the third largest object in the region, behind Vesta and Ceres.
However, the images from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reveal the true violent history of Pallas, which is 318 miles (512 kilometres) in diameter, for the first time.
Experts from MIT have dubbed it the “golfball asteroid” because it is so littered with craters from collisions throughout its history.
The reason for this is because it has a strange orbit, plunging in and out of the asteroid belt as it makes its way around our host star.
As it does, it is bombarded by smaller craters, giving it its golf ball look.
MIT astronomer Michaël Marsset, lead author of a paper describing the images, said: “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.
“Pallas experiences two to three times more collisions than Ceres or Vesta, and its tilted orbit is a straightforward explanation for the very weird surface that we don’t see on either of the other two asteroids.
“People have proposed missions to Pallas with very small, cheap satellites.
“I don’t know if they would happen, but they could tell us more about the surface of Pallas and the origin of the bright spot.”
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The asteroid belt is found near to the orbit of Jupiter, which lays a huge part in protecting Earth from asteroids, some experts believe.
The massive planet has such a strong gravitational pull that it helps to keep the asteroid belt – located between Mars and the gas giant – in place so space rocks are not flying around the solar system.
There are also theories the planet draws loose asteroids, comets and meteors in.
NASA has said on its website: “Astronomers think that if it were not for the giant planet Jupiter exerting its gravitational force on the asteroids in the belt, the inner planets would be constantly bombarded by large asteroids.
“The presence of Jupiter actually protects Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars from repeated asteroid collisions!”.