ASTRONOMERS have made the rare discovery of a new asteroid circling the Sun and whizzing past Earth every 151 days.
The space rock is called 2019 LF6 and it has remained hidden from cosmic experts until now despite being 0.6 miles wide and orbiting near the Earth.
The newly discovered asteroid has the shortest orbit of any known asteroid.
It was spotted by astronomers from the California Institute of Technology.
Quanzhi Ye, a postdoctoral student at Caltech, explained: “LF6 is very unusual both in orbit and in size — its unique orbit explains why such a large asteroid eluded several decades of careful searches.”
The asteroid has an elliptical orbit so it travels way outside of the area in which the planets in our solar system orbit and actually gets closer to the Sun than Mercury does.
As Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, the asteroid’s orbit is very impressive.
The researchers think that the asteroid could have been slingshot out of the common plane of orbit when it came to the gravitational disturbances of Venus or Mercury.
Ye discovered 2019 LF6 using a camera that rapidly scans the night sky and searchers for signals that indicate moving asteroids as well as exploding or flashing stars and he only had a short window to do it in because this type of asteroid is more visible 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise or after sunset.
Finding an asteroid this large is also quite rare.
Ye said: “You don’t find kilometer-size asteroids very often these days.
“Thirty years ago, people started organizing methodical asteroid searches, finding larger objects first, but now that most of them have been found, the bigger ones are rare birds.”
What’s the difference between an asteroid, meteor and comet?
Here’s what you need to know, according to Nasa…
- Asteroid: An asteroid is a small rocky body that orbits the Sun. Most are found in the asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter) but they can be found anywhere (including in a path that can impact Earth)
- Meteoroid: When two asteroids hit each other, the small chunks that break off are called meteoroids
- Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it begins to vapourise and then becomes a meteor. On Earth, it’ll look like a streak of light in the sky, because the rock is burning up
- Meteorite: If a meteoroid doesn’t vapourise completely and survives the trip through Earth’s atmosphere, it can land on the Earth. At that point, it becomes a meteorite
- Comet: Like asteroids, a comet orbits the Sun. However rather than being made mostly of rock, a comet contains lots of ice and gas, which can result in amazing tails forming behind them (thanks to the ice and dust vapourising)
What do you make of this enormous asteroid? Let us know in the comments…
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