87 Sylvia

87 Sylvia
Adaptive Optics observations of (87) Sylvia, showing its two satellites, Remus and Romulus.
Discovered byNorman Robert Pogson
Discovery dateMay 16, 1866
(87) Sylvia
A909 GA
main belt · (outside core)
Sylvia · Cybele
AdjectivesSylvian /ˈsɪlviən/
Orbital characteristics
Epoch July 14, 2004 (JD 2453200.5)
Aphelion3.768 AU (563.679 Gm)
Perihelion3.213 AU (480.594 Gm)
3.490 AU (522.137 Gm)
6.52 a (2381.697 d)
15.94 km/s
Known satellites2
Physical characteristics[6]
Dimensions(363 × 249 × 191) ±5 km (MPCD) or (374 × 248 × 194) ±5 km (ADAM)
Mean diameter
271±5 km (MPCD) or 274±5 km (ADAM)
Volume(10.5±0.2)×107 km3 (MPCD) or (10.8±0.2)×107 km3 (ADAM)
Mass(1.44±0.01)×1019 kg
(1.476±0.006)×1019 kg[2][3]
Mean density
1.378±0.045 g/cm3
0.2160 d (5.183641±0.000039 h)
North pole right ascension
North pole declination
0.0435 [4]

Sylvia (minor planet designation: 87 Sylvia) is the 8th-largest asteroid in the asteroid belt. It is the parent body of the Sylvia family and member of Cybele group located beyond the main asteroid belt (see minor-planet groups). Sylvia was the first asteroid known to possess more than one moon.

Discovery and naming[]

Sylvia was discovered by N. R. Pogson on May 16, 1866, from Madras (Chennai), India.[7] Antonio Paluzie-Borrell, writing in Paul Herget's The Names of the Minor Planets (1955), mistakenly states that the name honors Sylvie Petiaux-Hugo Flammarion, the first wife of astronomer Camille Flammarion. In fact, in the article announcing the discovery of the asteroid, Pogson explained that he selected the name in reference to Rhea Silvia, mother of Romulus and Remus (MNRAS, 1866).

Physical characteristics[]

Sylvia is very dark in color and probably has a primitive composition, though with some internal differentiation. The discovery of its moons made possible an accurate measurement of the asteroid's mass, density and mass distribution. Its density is low (around 1.4 times the density of water), indicating that the asteroid is porous; best-fit models estimate it had an original composition by volume of 35% rock, 13% ice and 52% internal voids, and that today it consists of a pristine anhydrous outer layer, and a differentiated interior, with meltwater having percolated inward so that the porosity of the rock is filled with ice out to a radius of about 46 km, then ice-free porous rock out to about 104 km.[6]

Sylvia is a fairly fast rotator, turning about its axis every 5.2 hours, giving it an equatorial rotation velocity of about 65 m/s, almost half the escape velocity.

Sylvia's shape is flattened and elongated (a/b ≈ 1.45 ; a/c ≈ 1.84) and somewhat irregular. However, its surface has not been imaged well enough for individual features to be resolved.

Satellite system[]

Sylvia has two orbiting satellites. They have been named (87) Sylvia I Romulus and (87) Sylvia II Remus, after Romulus and Remus, the children of the mythological Rhea Silvia.

Romulus, the first moon, was discovered on February 18, 2001, from the Keck II telescope by Michael E. Brown and Jean-Luc Margot. Remus, the second moon, was discovered over three years later on August 9, 2004, by Franck Marchis of UC Berkeley, and Pascal Descamps, Daniel Hestroffer, and Jérôme Berthier of the Observatoire de Paris, France.

The orbital properties of the satellites are listed in this table.[6][8] The orbital planes of both satellites and the equatorial plane of the primary asteroid are all well-aligned. Diameters are estimates based on the assumption that the moons have the same albedo as their primary.

Name Mass [kg] Diameter [km] Semi-major axis [km] Orbital period [days] Eccentricity Inclination [°]
Remus (0.8±0.2)×1015 10+17
694.2±0.1 1.3570±0.0003 0.005+0.010
Romulus (1.4±0.4)×1015 15+10
1340.6±0.4 3.64126±0.00002 0.000+0.003


  1. ^ Noah Webster (1884) A Practical Dictionary of the English Language
  2. ^ Jim Baer (2008). "Recent Asteroid Mass Determinations". Personal Website. Archived from the original on 2 July 2013. Retrieved 5 December 2008.
  3. ^ F. Marchis; et al. (2005). "Discovery of the triple asteroidal system 87 Sylvia" (PDF). Nature. 436 (7052): 822–4. Bibcode:2005Natur.436..822M. doi:10.1038/nature04018. PMID 16094362.
  4. ^ Supplemental IRAS Minor Planet Survey Archived 2009-08-17 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ PDS spectral class data Archived 2009-08-05 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b c Carry et al. (2021) 'Evidence for differentiation of the most primitive small bodies'. Astronomy & Astrophysics, in press.
  7. ^ Pogson, N. R. (1866), Minor Planet (87) Sylvia, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 26, p. 311 (June 1866)
  8. ^ Errors were published as 3 sigma. To maintain consistency with the table for Sylvia, they have here been reduced to 1 sigma.

External links[]