For the first time, astronomers have detected an asteroid whose orbital path is completely within the orbit of Venus.
Called 2020 AV2, the object was discovered by the survey camera at the Palomar Observatory in the United States.
The team, led by Wing-Huen Ip, of the National Central University in Taiwan, published a preprint version of the study on Arxiv in September.
The asteroid is between 1 and 3 kilometers long and has an elongated orbit tilted about 15 degrees in relation to the plane of our Solar System.
It has an orbital period around the Sun of 151 days and comes very close to the orbit of Mercury at its closest approach to the star.
“Getting past the orbit of Venus must have been challenging,” said George Helou, one of the researchers. According to Helou, the asteroid must have come from a farther region of 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.”
Previously called ZTF09k5, the asteroid was first observed by a postdoctoral student at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) on January 4, 2020.
Soon after that, an alert was posted by the Minor Planet Center, the official organization that catalogs small objects in the Solar System, and aroused the interest of the astronomical community.
Thanks to joint research, experts determined that 2020 AV2 belongs to a small class of asteroids known as Atiras, whose trajectories are within Earth’s orbit – and, more specifically, it is the first “Vatira” asteroid (with “V” for “Venus”) to be found.
The Vatiras, which were hypothetical objects until now, have an orbital path within the orbit of Venus.
“An encounter with a planet probably flung the asteroid into Venus’s orbit,” said Tom Prince, a Professor of Physics at Caltech who was involved in the study.
“It’s the opposite of what happens when a space mission swings by a planet for a gravity boost. Instead of gaining energy from a planet, it loses it.”