Science

Kilometer-sized asteroid orbits the sun every 151 days

Kilometer-sized asteroid orbits the sun every 151 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".

Asteroid 2019 LF6 is seen here traveling across the sky in images captured by ZTF on June 10.

This asteroid is one of 20 known so-called Atira asteroids, a class of near-Earth objects orbiting the sun closer than Earth.

The 2019 AQ3 asteroid was the previous record holder for the shortest known year of an object of its kind, standing at 165 days. (Mercury is the sun's nearest planetary neighbor.) This asteroid could have been slingshot out of the plane when it came too close to the gravitational disturbances of Venus or Mercury, according to the statement.

Tom Prince, a physics professor at Caltech involved in spotting 2019 LF6, believed their short orbits were due to past skirmishes with the Solar System's inner planets.

"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", Ye added. Ye hopes his skywatching campaign will result in more Atira discoveries and that NASA pursues future near-Earth object projects like the proposed NEOCam mission, which is created to look for asteroids closer to the sun.

To find such asteroids, the ZTF team has been carrying out a dedicated observing campaign, named Twilight.

The asteroid was spotted using the Zwicky Transient Facility at the Palomar Observatory, which also found another Atira asteroid earlier this year.

Finding an asteroid this large is quite rare. Because ZTF scans the sky so rapidly, it is well-suited for finding Atira asteroids, which have short observing windows. "Like other asteroids, Atiras are leftovers from the formation of our solar system". Because they're so close to the sun, the best time to find them is around 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise or after sunset.

"It is one of the near-Earth asteroid groups that we don't know much about, since their unique orbits make them hard to observe", Yu told Gizmodo.

Most asteroids are found deeper in space, particularly beyond Mars in the main asteroid belt, but there could be many more hidden objects lurking between our planet and the sun. "Therefore, we can improve our understanding of the inventory of near-Earth asteroids by studying the Atiras".



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