Big, rare asteroid found making the rounds between Earth and sun

10 Juillet, 2019, 13:55 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Big, rare asteroid found making the rounds between Earth and sun

The newly discovered kilometre-sized asteroid dubbed 2019 LF6 has the shortest solar year around our Sun - compared to all the other space rocks found floating around the Solar System at just 151 days. The ZTF is created to find asteroids that fall within Earth's orbit and have short observing windows, which are also known as Atiras.

As reported by CNET, Quanzhi Ye of Caltech, who discovered the asteroid released a statement saying: "You don't find kilometre-size asteroids very often these days".

"Thirty years ago, people started organizing methodical asteroid searches, finding larger objects first, but now that a lot of them have been found, the bigger ones are rare birds", Ye said. "LF6 is very unusual both in orbit and in size-its unique orbit explains why such a large asteroid eluded several decades of careful searches".

Scientists spotted the unusual asteroid using the Zwicky Transient Facility, or ZTF, a powerful camera at the Palomar Observatory, situated in the mountains between Los Angeles and San Diego. Because ZTF scans the sky so rapidly, it is well-suited for finding Atira asteroids, which have short observing windows.

"Because Atira asteroids are closer to the Sun and warmer than other asteroids, they are brighter in the infrared", George Helou, an executive at Caltech's astronomy center said.

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In February, Yu's team used the ZTF to discover asteroid 2019 AQ3, which, with a year lasting 165 days, was the previous record holder for shortest Atira year. Twilight was developed by Ye and Wing-Huen Ip of the National Central University in Taiwan.

This swift-moving rock snuggles closer to the sun than does our planet, which takes 365 days to make the solar trek. What they mean by "year" is the time it takes the asteroid to complete a full orbit around the sun.

The asteroid's elliptical orbit brings the space rock well outside of the plane on which the planets of our solar system orbit, and it gets closer than Mercury does to the sun. To date, it's found 100 near-Earth asteroids and around 2000 asteroids in the Main Belt between Jupiter and Mars.

The Twilight program has shown its worth so far and Ye looks towards the future at a possible selection by NASA's Near-Earth Object Camera mission - a spacecraft created to specifically looks for asteroids closer to the sun. NEOCam would pick up the infrared, or heat, signatures of asteroids.

"NEOCam has the double advantage of its location in space and its infrared capability to find these asteroids more easily than telescopes working at visible wavelengths from the ground", he added.

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