Published: Thu, July 11, 2019
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Massive, kilometer-sized asteroid was just found orbiting the Sun

Massive, kilometer-sized asteroid was just found orbiting the Sun

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

This makes it just one of 20 so-called "Atira" asteroids known that orbit the sun entirely inside Earth's own orbit.

'You don't find kilometer-size asteroids very often these days, ' says Quanzhi Ye, a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech who discovered 2019 LF6. "Now that most of (the larger objects) have been found, the bigger ones are rare birds". The article, generally called as 2019 LF6, finishes an orbit of the star every 151 days and comes closer to the Sun than even Mercury.LF6 travels in an oval orbit that takes it inside Mercury's orbit, across the Sun, after which again out past the orbit of Venus.

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

Along with these two Atira objects, ZTF has discovered about 100 near-Earth asteroids and 2,000 main-belt space rocks orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, in line with Caltech officials. The asteroid, known as 2019 LF6, orbits the sun once every 151 days. But 2019 LF6, and also 2019 AQ3, are in orbits "that take them well outside the plane of the solar system", said ZTF team member Tom Prince in the press release, adding: "This suggests that sometime in the past they were flung out of the plane of the solar system because they came too close to Venus or Mercury". The unique orbit of the asteroid is what allowed it to remain undiscovered for so long. It boasts the "shortest year", compared to any other asteroid. This instrument is well-suited for locating Atira asteroids, which feature very brief windows for observation. The new mission aims to find near-earth objects so scientists can understand how asteroids were formed and how they will evolve over time as the Solar System changes.

"Because Atira asteroids are closer to the sun and warmer than other asteroids, they are brighter in the infrared", George Helou, executive director of IPAC (a CalTech astronomy center) said."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". "Therefore, we can improve our understanding of the inventory of near-Earth asteroids by studying the Atiras".

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