Is it a bird or burning plane? Astronomers find smallest ever 'bald' asteroid

Astronomers including one from Indian-origin have achieved another milestone in astronomy by discovering the smallest known asteroid ever with the help of data received by four telescopes. The ‘bald’ asteroid that was discovered last year measures just six feet or 2 meters in diameter.

Researchers have named the tiny astronaut as 2015 TC25 while some are calling it as flying bird or burning plane as it is smallest and brightest near-Earth asteroids ever discovered.

Vishnu Reddy, Assistant Professor at University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in the US, was proud to discover asteroid such small and said that discovering such small asteroids and meteoroids orbiting earth will enable us to learn the characteristics of these near-Earth objects and how they originate. This will also help in predicting when large asteroids will get deflected from its path to crash into Earth. He further added that probability of collision of 2015 TC25 and Earth is very small.

Technological advancement and better telescopes have enabled astronomers to discover such small Near Earth Objects (NEO) orbiting the planet. “This is the first time we have optical, infrared and radar data on such a small asteroid, which is essentially a meteoroid,” said Reddy.

Reddy along with his team discovered during Catalina Sky Survey conducted in last October 2015 when astronomers found the bright object in the sky that reflected nearly 60 percent of the light falling on its surface. Study authors revealed that the asteroid completes one rotation in two minutes which makes it one of the fastest-spinning NEAs ever observed.

The small asteroid is orbiting 128,000 kilometres above the earth’s surface which is one-third of the distance between Earth and moon. It completes one revolution around Sun in 382 days. Unlike other bigger asteroids, the 2015 TC25 is a piece of solid rock and lacks the layer of dirt-like regolith.

Study authors later observed the 2015 TC25 with the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and Arecibo Planetary Radar to further study the NEA.

“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,” Reddy said.

The study appeared in The Astronomical Journal.

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