6-Foot-Wide Asteroid Is The Smallest Ever Found

Posted: Dec 2 2016, 2:25pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 2 2016, 2:56pm CST , in Latest Science News


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6-Foot Wide Asteroid is the Smallest Ever Found
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The tiniest asteroid can help understand parent bodies from which meteorites originate

Astronomers have studied what could be the smallest asteroid ever spotted in the universe. The tiny asteroid is just 6 feet across and can provide more clues on the origin of the populations of asteroids and meteorites.

Named 2015 TC25, the asteroid was spotted in October 2015 when it made a close flyby to the Earth. The asteroid sailed past our planet at the distance of 128,000 kilometers, which is even closer to the average distance of Earth's moon (364,800 km). A combination of cutting edge Earth-based telescopes, NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and Arecibo Planetary Radar were used to observe the asteroid in detail.

2015 TC25 is not only tiniest known asteroid but also one of the brightest to come that much close to the Earth. The asteroid reflects around 60% of sunlight touching its surface.

“This is the first time we have optical, infrared and radar data on such a small asteroid, which is essentially a meteoroid,” said lead researcher Vishnu Reddy from University of Arizona. “You can think of it as a meteorite floating in space that hasn't hit the atmosphere and made it to the ground — yet.”

In the most detailed observations of a small asteroid to date, researchers have found that the surface of the asteroid is similar to a rare type of highly reflective meteorite called aubrite. One of 1,000 meteorites that enter the atmosphere of the Earth belongs to this class. Moreover, its size is almost equivalent to the meteorites that fall on Earth, making it an ideal candidate to understand the objects from which meteorites originate.

Meteorites burn as they enter the earth’s atmosphere which makes them impossible to study. Asteroids, on the other hand, survive as they stroll across the Earth and can help understand the parent body of the meteorites. However, these asteroids are hard to detect and characterize due to their small size.

“If we can discover and characterize asteroids and meteoroids this small, then we can understand the population of objects from which they originate: large asteroids, which have a much smaller likelihood of impacting Earth,” said Reddy. “In the case of 2015 TC25, the likelihood of impacting Earth is fairly small.”

Most of the asteroids are wrapped in thick blanket of dust but the newfound asteroid is the first evidence for an asteroid lacking the typical dust blanket or debris that resembles the regolith found on moon. It is more like a bare “solid rock” type of object that spins extremely quickly and completes a rotation every two minutes.

Researchers believe that the small asteroid is likely a part of 44 Nysa, a main-belt asteroid which can swallow an area as big as Los Angeles. Another impacting rock may have separated it from its parent body.

“Being able to observe small asteroids like this one is like looking at samples in space before they hit the atmosphere and make it to the ground,” said Reddy. “It also gives us a first look at their surfaces in pristine condition before they fall through the atmosphere."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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