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Fastest in orbit around the asteroid zips around the Sun in only 165 days

The orbit of the asteroid 2019 AQ3 is shown in this diagram. The object has the shortest year of any recorded asteroid with an orbital period of only 165 days on Earth.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Astronomers have found an asteroid that zips around the sun every 165 Earth days.

That is the shortest years for an asteroid that humankind, discovery, members of the team said. And the space rock, called 2019 AQ3, can be part of a large and almost unknown people zoom through the inner solar system, fairly close to the sun.

“We have a special object whose job is hardly different than Venus’ orbit — that’s a big deal,” Ye Quanzhi, a postdoctoral researcher at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), an astronomy data and science facility at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, said in a statement. [Note: Asteroid 2019 AQ3 super-Fast Orbit Around the Sun]

2019 AQ3 is a “very rare species,” Ye said, adding that “there may be many more undiscovered asteroids out there like that.” To be clear, asteroid 2019 AQ3 the track is not the fastest of an object. The planet Mercury makes one trip around the sun every 88 days. But the space rock is unique, researchers said.

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Ye spotted 2019 AQ3 on Jan. 4, in images captured by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), a sky-research camera installed on the 48 inch (122 cm) Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory in Southern California.

The ZTF, which began operations in March 2018, will scan the entire visible northern sky every three nights. The wide field of view and rapid surveying frequency the ZTF is a great observer of supernova explosions, asteroids, and other “travelers” — astronomical objects and phenomena that are visible only temporarily.

Indeed, the camera already spotted 60 new near-Earth asteroids, ZTF members of the team said.

Ye reported the discovery of 2019 AQ3 the IAU (International Astronomical Union) Minor Planet Center, the organization responsible for collecting and coordinating data about asteroids and comets in our solar system.

Several research groups than the observed object, on Jan. 6 and 7, using a variety of telescopes. Astronomers reviewed the archived data, find evidence of 2019 AQ3 in images captured by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii, dating back to 2015.

Put all this information together, Ye and his colleagues were able to map to 2019 AQ3 the job in detail. The asteroid zooms around the sun in an elliptical orbit which takes it inside the orbit of Mercury, the closest to approach and slightly further than Venus at its farthest point, the researchers determined. And 2019 AQ3 the orbit is inclined out of the plane of the paths taken by the Earth and the solar system’s other large planets.

2019 AQ3 seems to belong to the Atira (also known as Apohele) class asteroids, which have orbits interior to that of the Earth. Just 20 or so space rocks, out of 800,000 known asteroids, are Atiras, researchers said.

“The origin of Atiras is an intriguing and open question,” discovery team member, Wing-Huen Ip, a professor in the astronomy and space science of the Institute of Astronomy and Space Science in the National Central University in Taiwan, said in the same statement. “With each additional object, we come closer to the formulation and testing of models about the origin and about the history of our solar system.”

Much more Atiras likely exist and those that line-up Earth in their crosshairs can be especially dangerous, the researchers said. That is because these asteroids would be, coming from the direction of the sun and therefore difficult to recognize because our star’s overwhelming glare.

2019 AQ3 is not dangerous, however. Its orbit never brings it closer to the Earth than 22 million miles (35.4 million kilometers), researchers said.

While the size of the newly discovered asteroid is unclear, although observations suggest that it is almost 1 mile (1.6 km) wide. If that is the case, 2019 AQ3 would be one of the largest Atiras known.

“In so many ways, 2019 AQ3 is really an oddball asteroid,” Ye says.

Originally published on Space.com.

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