Thursday, 19 September, 2019

Newly-Found Asteroid Orbits Sun Closer Than Mercury

Kilometer-sized asteroid orbits the sun every 151 days ZTF Spots Asteroid with Shortest Year
Sandra Phillips | 11 July, 2019, 13:15

The ZTF team conduct a program called "Twilight" for surveying the night sky for Atira asteroids.

One other Atira asteroid has been discovered by the ZTF team, 2019 AQ3, which orbits the Sun approximately once every 165 days. It boasts the "shortest year", compared to any other asteroid. ZTF appears for something that is changing over time: not only stars that flash or explode but also asteroids that pass by, just like the one described in a Monday (July 8) statement from the California Institute of Technology.

"You don't find kilometer-size asteroids very often these days", says Quanzhi Ye, a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech who discovered 2019 LF6 and works with Tom Prince, the Ira S. Bowen Professor of Physics at Caltech and a senior research scientist at JPL, as well as George Helou, the executive director of IPAC, an astronomy center at Caltech. The newfound space rock, measuring a kilometer wide, circles the sun once every 151 days. Most objects this large have been found already making the discovery of this sort of asteroid rare.

At its most distant point from the Sun, 2019 LF6's orbit flings it beyond Venus' path and at its closest point, it's reeled back in within Mercury's orbit.

2019 LF6 was discovered by the Zwicky Transient Facility, "a state-of-the-art camera" at the Palomar Observatory.

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The newly discovered asteroid - now referred to as 2019 LF6, orbits the sun every 151 days, or about the last day of May. Because ZTF scans the sky so rapidly, it is well-suited for finding Atira asteroids, which have short observing windows.

"We only have about 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise or after sunset to find these asteroids", Ye said. But ZTF is also good at finding asteroids in general.

The ZTF team is now awaiting NASA approval for the Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam), a proposed mission in which a spacecraft would use the camera to hunt for more IEOs. 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.

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.

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