SPACE | Researchers find first asteroid inside Venus orbit
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA — Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have discovered a rare asteroid orbiting snugly within the inner confines of the solar system, according to a Caltech release on Wednesday.
The asteroid has been discovered by Caltech’s Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), a survey camera based at Palomar Observatory.
The newfound body, named 2020 AV2, is the first asteroid found to orbit entirely within the orbit of Venus.
“Getting past the orbit of Venus must have been challenging,” said George Helou, executive director of the IPAC (Infrared Processing & Analysis Center) astronomy center at Caltech and a ZTF co-investigator, who explained that the asteroid must have migrated toward Venus from farther out in the solar system.
“The only way it will ever get out of its orbit is if it gets flung out via a gravitational encounter with Mercury or Venus, but more likely it will end up crashing on one of those two planets,” Helou said.
2020 AV2 belongs to a small class of asteroids known as Atiras, which are bodies with orbits that fall within the orbit of Earth. More specifically, it is the first “Vatira” asteroid, with the “V” standing for Venus, according to Caltech.
The ZTF camera is particularly adept at finding asteroids because it scans the entire sky rapidly and thus can catch the asteroids during their short-lived appearances in the night sky.
The asteroid spans about 1-3 km and has an elongated orbit tilted about 15 degrees relative to the plane of the solar system.
During its 151-day orbit around the sun, it always travels interior to Venus, but at its closest approach to the sun, it comes very close to the orbit of Mercury, according to Caltech.