(CNN) – A newly discovered asteroid is closer to our sun than Earth.
Named 2021 PH27, the asteroid completes one orbit around the sun every 113 days and approaches 20 million kilometers from our star.
This gives the spacecraft the distinction of having the shortest orbit for the asteroid and the second shortest orbit around the Sun after Mercury, with 88 days to complete its orbit around our star.
The asteroid was discovered on August 13 at dusk by Brown University astronomers Ian del Antonio and Shenming Fu. 4-meter vector M at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Laboratory in Chile.
Various aspects of the asteroid surprised Shepherd.
The asteroid is 1 kilometer long and “could be the smallest asteroid of this size in the inner solar system unknown to us,” he said.
“2021 PH27 goes very close to the sun, its surface reaches a temperature of 482 ° C, hot enough to melt lead,” Shepherd said in an email. “Because of these extreme temperatures, 2021 is unlikely to be made of any turbulent materials, and it is mostly made of rocks with certain metals, such as iron.”
It has an unstable orbit that crosses the orbits of Mercury and Venus in its orbit around the Sun. In a few million years, the orbit of the asteroid will destroy it. The rock may collide with Mercury or Venus or the Sun or be ejected from its current position in the solar system.
Sheppard said the asteroid is very close to the Sun’s largest gravitational field, which experiences effects in its orbit.
The newly discovered asteroid is one of the 20 Atira asteroids that are fully in Earth’s solar orbit.
Although some asteroids are known to approach the Sun until 2021 PH27, their orbits are very long.
“Some of these asteroids are found to have dust in their orbits, suggesting that the asteroids will slowly disintegrate or crack from the intense thermal stresses under these objects,” Sheppard explained.
A notable example of this Phaethon, an asteroid that acts like a comet This creates the Gemini meteor shower that occurs in our sky every December.
An asteroid tracking
But where did this space rock come from? This is one of the questions Sheppard wants to ask next, but he has some ideas based on his early observations.
The asteroid may have separated itself from the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but Shepard 2021 PH27 did not rule out the possibility of a truly extinct comet.
“It could be a extinct comet because comets come in long, long orbits from the outer solar system, and by gravitational contact with the inner planets, set them in the solar system. For a long time,” Sheppard explained. The inner planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.
When this happens, some elements of the comet evaporate, it no longer looks like a comet and only remains.
Shepard often searches for incredibly distant objects in the solar system And beyond. However, it is also important to understand the population of asteroids close to Earth’s orbit. Asteroids close to Earth have the potential to affect it in the future, but some of them are incredibly difficult to access our planet during the day.
“The location of the Earth’s orbit has not been relatively explored to date,” Sheppard said. “It’s hard to see the area towards the sun because of its brightness.”
But the Dark Energy Chamber has a large field of view, making it a powerful tool for searching for unnoticed objects such as the 2021 PH27, especially at dusk, before sunset, and before departure.
Following Shepard’s discovery, University of Hawaii astronomer David Dolan measured the asteroid’s position and predicted where it would appear the next night. On August 14 and 15, several telescopes from Chile and South Africa allowed the asteroid to be seen. These astronomers postponed their own research observations to help them learn more about the asteroid.
“Although the time of telescopes is precious, the international nature and love of the unknown make astronomers want to put aside their own science and observations to pursue such exciting new discoveries,” Sheppard said. “We are very grateful to all of our collaborators who allowed us to act quickly on this discovery.”
Soon, the asteroid will go behind the sun and will not be noticed until early 2022. Shepherd is interested in learning more about the composition and appearance of the asteroid.
“Where do these inner asteroids come from? Some are recently broken main belt meteorites, others may be extinct comets, but there may be people with another look like vulcanoids, which is the hypothetical population of asteroids,” Sheppard said. .