Big, rare asteroid found making the rounds between Earth and sun

Katie Ramirez
July 11, 2019

On its aphelion, the portion of the asteroid's orbit farthest from the sun, 2019 LF6 moves beyond the orbit of Venus.

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

The year goes by quickly for this newfound asteroid. This rock makes a complete orbit of the Sun in just 151.13 days, the shortest year of any known asteroid.

"Thirty years in the past, individuals began organizing methodical asteroid searches, discovering bigger objects first, however now that nearly all of them have been discovered, the larger ones are uncommon birds", Tom Price of Caltech describes.

"You don't find kilometer-size asteroids very often these days", Quanzhi Ye, a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech who discovered 2019 LF6 said in a statement.

In its orbit, 2019 LF6 swings out beyond Venus and at times comes closer to the sun than Venus, which circles it every 88 days. The ZTF is created to find asteroids that fall within Earth's orbit and have short observing windows, which are also known as Atiras. 2019 LF6 was discovered using the Zwicky Transient Facility or ZTF.

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"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.

Through their latest discovery, the astronomers are hoping that their Twilight program, an observing campaign for finding Atira asteroids, will be selected by NASA as part of its Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) mission.

It's hard to spot the asteroids because astronomers only have about 20 to 30 minutes before or after sunset to find them, Ye said. Both of the objects orbit basically perpendicular to the essentially flat plane of the solar system that the planets inhabit.

"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.

"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.

This artist concept catastrophic collisions between asteroids located in the belt between Mars and Jupiter and how they have formed families of objects on similar orbits around the sun.

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