Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Astronomy, published a perspective article in the journal Sciences Which suggests that it’s time for the space science community to take a closer look at Near Earth Objects (NEOs) that lie in the direction of the Sun. He notes in his paper that the technology is now in place to search for and find such near-Earth objects, at least during twilight hours.
As Sheppard points out, most space stares are constant in a dark night sky, when the sky isn’t flooded with sunlight. But as a result, astronomers have ignored NEOs orbiting between the Earth and the sun. This could lead to a problem, as one or more of them could be on a road that leads to them hitting the ground.
Scientists don’t completely ignore NEOs that are in the sun’s glare, of course. Sheppard points out that many of them have been discovered recently. But he says more such studies are needed to learn more about them. He notes that a team recently discovered an asteroid with an orbit within the orbit of Venus and another with the shortest journey around the sun. It also indicates that the new facilities have the capabilities to study such near-Earth objects, such as the Zwicky Transit Facility in the United States and the NSF Blanco-4 meter facility in Chile. The latter even has a Dark Energy camera that can be pointed close to the sun.
Objects near the Sun that orbit the Sun are classified within Earth’s orbit based on their orbital position—if they travel within the orbit of Venus, for example, they are called Vatiras. Additionally, Sheppard notes that their numbers remain relatively constant, which is somewhat surprising. Based on computer models and the number of these objects hitting the Earth, the Moon, or other celestial bodies, their numbers should drop. It does not indicate that it is being refurbished somehow. He believes that efforts should be made to find out where these NEOs come from and why.
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Scott S. Sheppard, in the glare of the sun, Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1126 / science.abj9820
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