Brussels (Brussels Morning)
- Asteroid 2021 PH27 was discovered on August 13 with the Dark Energy Camera (DEC) in Chile
- It takes 113 Earth days for the object to complete one revolution around the Sun
- It passes at a distance from the Sun of about 20 million km and reaches temperatures of about 500ºC
2021 PH27, a newly discovered asteroid, has turned out to have the fastest orbit around the Sun in the entire solar system. Additionally, with the exception of Mercury, it has the shortest orbital period of any known object revolving around the Sun.
The Usain Bolt of asteroids was discovered on August 13 by astronomers using the Dark Energy Camera (DEC), a powerful instrument for observing space in detail located on the 4-meter Víctor M. Blanco Telescope at Cerro Tololo in Chili.
An orbit dangerously close to the Sun
It takes 113 Earth days for the object to complete one revolution around the Sun, just behind Mercury, which takes 88 days. However, it’s also worth noting that 2021 PH27 can get closer to the giant star than Mercury will ever be able to do since its orbit has a more elliptical shape than that of the planet. At its closest point, it is located about 20 million kilometers from the Sun, while Mercury is at 47 million kilometers.
That proximity allows the asteroid to reach temperatures as high as 500 degrees Celsius (hot enough to melt Lead). This also means that this bizarre space rock experiences the greatest general relativity effects of any known object in the solar system.
In the long term, the elliptical orbit of 2021 PH27 will change and may lead it to collide with the Sun or one of the internal planets of the solar system (Mercury or Venus).
Doubts about the origin of the asteroid
Astronomers at the NOIRLab research center believe that it is possible that the asteroid may have possibly originated in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and was dislodged by gravitational disturbances from the inner planets that brought it closer to the Sun.
They also added that its high orbital inclination of 32 degrees suggests that it could be an extinct comet from the outer solar system that was captured in a closer short-period orbit by passing close to one of the terrestrial planets. Astronomers concluded that future observations of the asteroid will shed more light on its origins.