The fastest asteroid in the Solar System has been discovered at NOIRLab’s CTIO using the powerful 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera (DECam) in Chile — the Sun’s new nearest neighbor. Astronomers just ten days ago discovered an asteroid with the fastest orbital period of any known asteroid in the Solar System. The orbit of the approximately 1-kilometer-diameter asteroid takes it as close as 20 million kilometers (12 million miles or 0.13 au), from the Sun every 113 days. This artist’s rendering shows the asteroid (above) and the planet Mercury (below).

NOIRLab: Fastest Orbiting Asteroid Discovered at Cerro Tololo

Using the powerful 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera (DECam) in Chile, astronomers discovered an asteroid with the shortest orbital period of any known asteroid in the Solar System ...
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About 5,000 years ago a comet swept within 23 million miles of the sun, closer than the innermost planet Mercury. The comet must have been a spectacular sight to those young civilizations across Eurasia and North Africa that were arising at the end of the Stone Age. However, this nameless space visitor is not recorded in any known historical account. So how do astronomers know that there was such an interplanetary intruder? Enter comet ATLAS (C/2019 Y4), which first appeared near the beginning of 2020. ATLAS quickly met an untimely death in mid-2020 when it disintegrated into a cascade of small icy pieces. Such a comet’s self-destruction happens once or twice a decade. Astronomer Quanzhi Ye of the University of Maryland reports that ATLAS is a broken-off piece of that ancient visitor from 5,000 years ago. Why? Because ATLAS follows the same orbital “railroad track” as that of a comet seen in 1844. This means the two comets are siblings from the parent comet that broke apart very long ago. The link between the two comets was first noted by amateur astronomer Maik Meyer. Such comet families are common. The most dramatic visual example was in 1994 when the doomed comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9) was pulled into a string of pieces by Jupiter’s gravitational pull. This “comet train” was short-lived. It fell piece by piece into Jupiter in July 1994. But comet ATLAS is just “weird,” says Ye, who observed it with Hubble about the time of the breakup. Unlike its hypothesized parent comet, ATLAS disintegrated while it was farther from the Sun than Earth, at a distance of over 100 million miles. This was much farther than the distance where its parent passed the Sun. “This emphasizes its strangeness,” said Ye. “If it broke up this far from the sun, how did it survive the last passage around the sun 5,000 years ago? This is the big question,” said Ye. “It’s very unusual because we wouldn’t expect it. This is the first time a long-period comet f

STScI: Comet ATLAS May Have Been a Blast from the Past

In a new study using observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomer Quanzhi Ye of the University of Maryland in College Park, reports that ATLAS is a broken-off piece of that ancient visitor from 5,000 ...
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STScI: Hubble Finds First Evidence of Water Vapor at Jupiter's Moon Ganymede

STScI: Hubble Finds First Evidence of Water Vapor at Jupiter’s Moon Ganymede

For the first time, astronomers have uncovered evidence of water vapor in the atmosphere of Jupiter's moon Ganymede. This water vapor forms when ice from the moon's surface sublimates — that is, turns from solid ...
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NOIRLab: Astronomers Uncover Briefest Supernova-Powered Gamma-Ray Burst

NOIRLab: Astronomers Uncover Briefest Supernova-Powered Gamma-Ray Burst

Astronomers have discovered the shortest-ever gamma-ray burst (GRB) caused by the implosion of a massive star. Using the international Gemini Observatory, a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab, astronomers identified the cause of this 0.6-second flurry of ...
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NOIRLab: Are We Missing Other Earths?

NOIRLab: Are We Missing Other Earths?

Some exoplanet searches could be missing nearly half of the Earth-sized planets around other stars ...
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NOIRLab: Giant Comet Found in Outer Solar System by Dark Energy Survey

NOIRLab: Giant Comet Found in Outer Solar System by Dark Energy Survey

A giant comet from the outskirts of our Solar System has been discovered in 6 years of data from the Dark Energy Survey ...
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