Ceres, the first asteroid (minor planet) to be discovered in the Solar System, has held the record as the largest known object of its kind for two centuries.
However, recent observations at the European Southern Observatory have determined that the newly discovered distant asteroid "2001 KX76" is significantly larger, with a diameter of 1200 km, possibly even 1400 km.
By combining data from the world's first operational "virtual telescope", Astrovirtel, with that from a conventional telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory (Chile), a team of astronomers from Germany, Finland and Sweden has determined the size of the newly found, remote asteroid, 2001 KX76.
Their measurements indicate that this icy rock has a diameter of at least 1200 km and is therefore larger than any other known asteroid in the Solar System. The previous record-holder, the asteroid Ceres, was also the first object of its type to be discovered - by the Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi on January 1, 1801. Its diameter is about 950 km, relegating it to second place after holding the asteroid size record for two hundred years.
This conclusion is based on data from Astrovirtel, which has been operating at the ESO Headquarters in Garching (Germany) for about one year. This advanced prototype science tool which in effect mimics a telescope provides astronomers with access to a wide variety of high-quality data.
The 'Virtual Observatory' concept, for which "Astrovirtel" is a prototype, is the start of a new era in astronomy. A larger study project called the 'Astrophysical Virtual Observatory' is now about to start within the Fifth EC Framework programme as a collaboration between ESO, ESA (ST-ECF), the University of Edinburgh (UK), CDS (Strasbourg, France), CNRS (Paris, France) and the University of Manchester (UK).
The full account of this work, with two photos and all weblinks, is available in "ESO PR Photos 27a-b/01" at URL:
Materials provided by European Southern Observatory. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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