Science News

One kilometer asteroid discovered with the shortest year

Caltech astronomers have identified an asteroid that runs around the Sun every 151 days, which makes this asteroid the one with the shortest year among those identified. 2019 LF6 has a diameter of about one mile and travels with an orbit that is just above Venus, oscillating slightly beyond it and approaching Mercury.

It is an Atira-type asteroid (a group that includes all the asteroids whose orbit is located entirely within the terrestrial one). This is an interesting discovery also because it is a fairly large asteroid, as specified by Quanzhi Ye, the student at Caltech who made the discovery, who admits that finding such asteroids today has become quite rare as the largest orbiting near almost all have been identified in the Sun.

The orbit of LF6, according to the scholar, is also very unusual, which explains the fact that it was never identified despite its rather bulky size. The researchers used the Palomar Observatory which has a special state-of-the-art camera, the Zwicky Transient Facility, which scans the skies every night to find these objects as well as other phenomena such as explosions and particular stars. 2019 LF6 joins 2019 AQ3, another Atira asteroid from the very short year that orbits the Sun every 165 days.

Both asteroids orbit far outside the plane of the solar system, something that suggests that they have somehow been “thrown out” gravitationally because they are too close to Mercury or Venus, as recalled by Tom Prince, professor of physics Caltech, another author of the research together with George Helou, executive director of the IPAC.