The newly discovered asteroid is just one of about 20 asteroids on Atira, which are those that are completely inside the Earth’s solar orbit.
Although there are a few known asteroids that get as close to the sun as 2021 PH27, their orbits are much longer.
“Some of these asteroids have been seen to have dust in their orbits, which suggests that the asteroids are slowly fragmenting or cracking. because of the extreme thermal stresses these objects suffer, ”Sheppard explained.
A notable example of this is Phaethon, the asteroid that behaves like a comet that creates the Geminid meteor showers that occur in our skies every December.
Tracking an asteroid
But, Where did this space rock come from? That’s one of the questions Sheppard wants to investigate next, but he has some ideas based on preliminary observations.
It is likely that the asteroid has detached itself from the main asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter, But Sheppard hasn’t ruled out the possibility that 2021 PH27 is actually an extinct comet.
“It could be an extinct cometor, since comets are known to come from the outer Solar System in elongated and long-period orbits and interact gravitationally with the inner planets to achieve more circular and shorter-period orbits that keep them in the inner Solar System for long periods of time. time, ”Sheppard explained. The inner planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.
When this happens, some of the elements of the comet evaporate until it stops looking like a comet and only the remnants remain.
Sheppard often searches for incredibly distant objects in the solar system and beyond. However, it is also crucial to understanding the population of asteroids near Earth’s orbit. Near-Earth asteroids have the possibility of impacting it in the future, but some of them are incredibly difficult to observe because they come close to our planet during the day.
“The space within the Earth’s orbit has been relatively unexplored to date”Sheppard said. “It is difficult to see the region towards the Sun because of its extreme brightness.”
But the Dark Energy Chamber has a large field of view, making it a powerful tool for searching for objects that would otherwise go unnoticed, like 2021 PH27, especially during twilight hours, when the Sun sets and just before rising.
Following Sheppard’s discovery, the astronomer David Tholen of the University of Hawaii measured the position of the asteroid and predicted where it could be observed the following night. This allowed several telescopes to observe the asteroid from Chile and South Africa on August 14 and 15. These astronomers postponed the observations for their own research in order to help learn more about the asteroid.
“Although the time of telescopes is precious, the international nature and love of the unknown make astronomers very willing to put off their own science and observations to pursue exciting new discoveries like this one,” Sheppard said. “We are very grateful to all our collaborators who have allowed us to act quickly on this discovery”.
Soon, the asteroid will pass behind the sun and will not be observable until early 2022. Sheppard is eager to learn more about the composition of the asteroid and its origin.
“Where do these inner asteroids come from? Some are Main Belt asteroids that recently dislodgedOthers could be extinct comets, but there could be another population of origin, such as the Vulcanoids, which are a hypothetical population of asteroids, ”Sheppard said.