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Look: Fast-moving asteroid could help unlock Solar System secrets

NASA via Giphy

Our Solar System is home to over one million asteroids.

Some have predictable orbits, moving elliptically around a planet. Others behave more erratically.

Illustration by Katherine Cain courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

Take 2021 PH27, for example.

The newly-discovered asteroid is currently zipping along an uneven path, completing one trip around the sun in just 113 days.

Researchers say it’s the shortest orbital period for an asteroid ever discovered in the Solar System.

Like other asteroids, it could help us unlock the mysteries of the early Solar System — if we can catch up to it.

Illustration by Katherine Cain courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

Here’s what 2021 PH27 looks like from Earth:

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These images of the asteroid were captured during evening twilight hours on August 13, 2021. Discovered by Scott S. Sheppard. Images taken by Ian Dell'Antonio and Shenming Fu.
2021 PH27’s unstable orbit takes it closer to the Sun than Mercury, and it won’t be visible from Earth again until early 2022.Katherine Cain and Scott Sheppard, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

“2021 PH27 gets so close to the Sun that its surface temperature gets to around 900 degrees Fahrenheit at closest approach, hot enough to melt lead.

Scott S. Sheppard, astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science who first spotted 2021 PH27

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MIT via Giphy

Researchers say the asteroid was probably dislodged from the asteroid belt and formed a new — albeit weird — orbit due to the gravitational pull of planets in the inner Solar System.

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Like other asteroids, the turbocharged space rock is a remnant from the early days of the Solar System — and remains a source of mystery for researchers.

NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Recent efforts, like NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu, provide new insights into the time when these artifacts formed billions of years ago.

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As for 2021 PH27, researchers say its unstable orbit indicates that it will probably crash into Mercury, Venus, or the Sun within the next few million years.

That’ll hopefully give us enough time to study it.

Read more stories about space here.

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