Surprising Asteroid Discovery
In New Region Of
Near Earth Space
Astronomers in Hawaii report discovering a new asteroid with an orbit completely within that of the Earth. It doesn't pose a danger itself, they say, but it does point to a new place to look for others.
"All other efforts to discover asteroids on a collision course with the Earth are being directed at a region of the sky almost opposite the Sun," said David Tholen, planetary astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy, in a statement.
Previously, all known asteroids traveled in an orbit farther from the Sun than the Earth over at least a portion of their journey.
"The significance of this discovery is that we would have otherwise never found this new asteroid because it apparently doesn't travel to that region of the sky being scanned by other search efforts," Tholen said.
Tholen and graduate student Robert Whiteley made the observation using a specialized camera fitted on the University of Hawaii's 2.24-meter telescope atop Mauna Kea last February.
The asteroid, thought to be about 132 feet in diameter, has since been designated 1998 DK36.
The exact size and shape of its orbit remain uncertain, according to Tholen. However, the orbit's farthest point from the Sun could be determined relatively accurately, and it appears to be very close to, but slightly inside the orbit of the Earth.
Could it collide with the Earth?
"We were unable to obtain enough observations to perform a formal probability calculation, though the best-fitting orbit has the object passing an apparently safe 750,000 miles from the Earth's orbit," said Tholen.

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