Podcaster: Richard Drumm

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Title: UNAWE Space Scoop – The Usain Bolt of Asteroids

Organization: 365 Days Of Astronomy

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Description: Space scoop, news for children. 

On August 13, 2021, astronomers made an amazing discovery. They found an asteroid that is closer to our Sun than any other space rock. 

Bio: Richard Drumm is President of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society and President of 3D – Drumm Digital Design, a video production company with clients such as Kodak, Xerox and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. He was an observer with the UVa Parallax Program at McCormick Observatory in 1981 & 1982. He has found that his greatest passion in life is public outreach astronomy and he pursues it at every opportunity.

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This is the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. Today we bring you a new episode in our Space Scoop series. This show is produced in collaboration with Universe Awareness, a program that strives to inspire every child with our wonderful cosmos.

Today’s story is…

The Usain Bolt of Asteroids

On August 13, 2021, astronomers made an amazing discovery. They found an asteroid that is closer to our Sun than any other space rock. 

Its closest approach to the Sun is 20 million kilometers or 12 million miles. That’s 0.13 au or 13% of the average distance from Earth to the Sun. 

That’s close enough that the surface temperature of this rock is about 500° Celsius or 900° Fahrenheit!


Hot enough to melt lead!

It’s now called 2021 PH27.

OK, it’s not a catchy name like Psyche or Eros, but we’ve run out of cool names from antiquity, they’ve all been used!

Using the 570-megapixel DECam or Dark Energy Camera at the Victor M. Blanco 4-Meter Telescope in Chile, a team of researchers spotted a rock orbiting the Sun just 20 million kilometers away from it. 

This rock takes just 113 days to complete an entire orbit around the Sun, making it the fastest asteroid in the Solar System!

Our Earth takes a year, of course, 365 days, to take a complete stroll around the Sun. We’re about 150 million kilometers away from it. 

Also, PH27’s orbit is inclined 32° from the plane of all the planets, so it’s not likely to cause trouble for us. 

In fact, it’s tilted orbit suggests that it’s the leftover core of a comet from far out in the Oort Cloud. 

This would be typical of a comet that was captured into its close orbit when it had a close encounter of the, uh, Venus kind…

Astronomers Scott S. Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute and Ian Dell’antonio & Shenming Fu of Brown University, were studying how dark matter and galaxies are distributed in 107 nearby galaxy clusters. 

They found asteroid 2021 PH27 when they were taking some time off from their other observations and started looking for smaller objects, such as asteroids, closer to Earth.

As one does.

To confirm the finding, it was important that other teams in different observatories checked the asteroid out. 

So astronomers in Hawaii, Chile and South Africa had a look at the thing and saw that what their colleagues found was really what they thought it was. 

Ph27 is a one-kilometer-diameter asteroid closer to the Sun than any other we know of!

Astronomers believe PH27’s orbit is unstable over long periods of time. 

If it doesn’t get flung out of the solar system altogether it will likely collide with Mercury, Venus or the Sun in the future – a really cool light show, for sure, but it might take a few million years. 

I’ll wait.

Good things come to those who wait…


To get to know more about the origin of this asteroid, astronomers will have to do some more observing. 

This will also help us understand more about near-Earth asteroids that could be a possible threat to life on our planet.

Hey, Here’s a cool fact!

Twilight, or the time just after sunset or before sunrise, is the best time to spot asteroids that are closer to the Sun than our Earth. 

Both Mercury, Venus, other rocks and Earth’s human-made satellites are best visible during twilight. 

Also, 2021 PH27 is one of around 20 known Atira asteroids that have their orbits completely inside Earth’s orbit.

Thank you for listening to the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast!

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy

The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by Planetary Science Institute. Audio post-production by Richard Drumm. Bandwidth donated by and wizzard media. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. 

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After 10 years, the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast is entering its second decade of sharing important milestone in space exploration and astronomy discoveries. Join us and share your story. Until tomorrow! Goodbye!