Astronomers baffled by weird record-breaking space rock — NASA asteroid shock

Pablo Tucker
July 11, 2019

The newly-found asteroid was found using the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) camera at the Palomar Observatory. 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". Before 2019 LF6 came along, 2019 AQ3 had the shortest known year of any asteroid, orbiting the sun roughly every 165 days. Both of the objects orbit basically perpendicular to the essentially flat plane of the solar system that the planets inhabit. The ZTF is created to find asteroids that fall within Earth's orbit and have short observing windows, which are also known as Atiras.

The newly discovered asteroid - now called 2019 LF6 - orbits the sun every 151 days, or about the time between January 1 and the last day of May.

Astronomers have discovered an usual asteroid that sets a record for the shortest year among space rocks smaller than a planet.

The orbit of asteroid 2019 LF6 (white), discovered by ZTF, falls entirely within the orbit of Earth (blue).

The ZTF team even formed a special, dedicated observing program to catch the Atira asteroids, dubbed Twilight (as twilight is the best time of the day to discover them). 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 created to look for asteroids closer to the sun.

"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. "Thirty years ago, people started organising methodical asteroid searches, finding larger objects first, but now that a lot of them have been found, the bigger ones are rare birds", he said. That asteroid also turned out to orbit the sun outside of the solar system's plane. The ZTF camera is extremely fast, which makes it suitable for detecting the hidden Atira asteroids, which have short observing windows.

A large asteroid belt is found between Mars and the fifth planet from The Sun, gas giant Jupiter. "We only have about 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise or after sunset to find these asteroids".

Other reports by iNewsToday