By watching the skies at the brink of sunrise and after nightfall, astronomers noticed a hunk of rock with the shortest asteroid “year” to date.
The Zwicky Transient Facility camera scans the skies rapidly every night from the Palomar Observatory, located 90 miles (145 Km) southeast of Los Angeles. 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.
The newly discovered asteroid — now referred to as 2019 LF6, orbits the sun every 151 days, or about the last day of May.
This asteroid is one of 20 known so-referred to as Atira asteroids, a class of near-Earth objects orbiting the sun closer than Earth. The orbit of this 0.6-mile-long chunk of rock swings from past Venus to even nearer to the sun than Mercury.
“LF6 is very uncommon both in orbit and in size its unique orbit explains why such a big asteroid eluded several years of careful searches,” Quanzhi Ye, the postdoctoral scholar at Caltech who found 2019 LF6, stated in a statement.
These objects are also fascinating due to their tilted orbits. “Both of the big Atira asteroids that have been discovered by Zwicky Transient Facility orbit well outside the plane of the solar system,” Caltech professor Tom Prince stated in the identical statement. “This means that sometime prior to now, they have been flung out of the plane of the solar system as a result of they came too close to Venus or Mercury.”
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. 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 designed to look for asteroids closer to the sun.