COLLEGE STATION - Texas A&M University astronomer Don Carona and his colleagues at Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) have discovered an asteroid orbiting the sun more than 200 million miles from Earth between Mars and Jupiter.
The asteroid, also known as a minor planet, was discovered by Carona and Dan Bruton, who received his doctorate from Texas A&M and is now a physics and astronomy professor at SFA, and Billy McCormack, a student at SFA.
"The discovery of minor planets facilitates our knowledge of our universe and provides insight into the formation of our solar system," Carona said. "Another thing is that the earth has been hit more than once by an asteroid or comet of some type. Knowing which asteroids are in our solar system and exactly where they are is a good step to understanding our risk of another strike."
Carona estimates the asteroid is eight or nine miles in diameter and orbits the sun every five and a half years. The group was tracking a known asteroid on Oct. 2 when they saw what they thought was an undiscovered asteroid in the background. The group confirmed the presence of the asteroid the next day and sent information about it to the Minor Planet Center, which is operated by Harvard University, to verify that they had discovered a previously unknown body.
The Minor Planet Center has now verified that the group had discovered the asteroid.
Carona and his colleagues have yet to name the asteroid, which has been temporarily designated J99T04G. The group will continue to gather data on the asteroid to trace an accurate orbit path.
"To see something that nobody has seen before is really exciting," he said. "I think it's great that both universities support this kind of research."
The research project is funded by a Faculty Research Grant from Stephen F. Austin State University.
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