Newly-Found Asteroid Orbits Sun Closer Than Mercury

Mindy Sparks
July 11, 2019

One other Atira asteroid has been discovered by the ZTF team, 2019 AQ3, which orbits the Sun approximately once every 165 days.

A massive asteroid has eluded astronomers because of its unusual orbit - until now.

The year goes by quickly for this newfound asteroid.

Now, researchers have noticed an asteroid that never really feels all that far from the Sun, even at its additional point. "Now that most of (the larger objects) have been found, the bigger ones are rare birds". The 2019 LF6 asteroid falls into the group of only 20 so-called "Atira" asteroids, known for their orbits that fall entirely within Earth's orbit.

"You don't find kilometer-size asteroids very often these days, "Caltech's Quanzhi Ye, the asteroid's discoverer, said in a statement".

The asteroid cataloged as "2019 LF6" orbits the sun in just 151 days.

"Both of the large Atira asteroids that were found by ZTF orbit well outside the plane of the solar system", Tom Prince professor of Physics at Caltech and a senior research scientist at JPL said. That asteroid also turned out to orbit the sun outside of the solar system's plane.

2019 LF6 was discovered via the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), a state-of-the-art camera at the Palomar Observatory that scans the skies every night for transient objects, such as exploding and flashing stars and moving asteroids. This instrument is well-suited for locating Atira asteroids, which feature very brief windows for observation. Ye said that the team could only search for them about 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise and after sunset.

"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.

The unusual orbits of Atira asteroids makes them hard to find even if they're large.

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.

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. "Therefore, we can improve our understanding of the inventory of near-Earth asteroids by studying the Atiras".

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