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Last update: 2020-04-05 16:04:00 UTC


NEOCC Newsletter: April 2020

03 April 2020

The ESA S2P-NEO Coordination Centre has released the April newsletter summarising the most relevant data and events on asteroids and comets approaching the orbit of the Earth. Please, feel free to forward it to potentially interested people.

You can download the newsletter by clicking on the button below; to subscribe to the service, please fill in the form on page




Planetary Defence Office observes an artificial near-Earth object

11 February 2020

On the morning of Monday, 10 February 2020, the joint ESA / NASA mission Solar Orbiter was launched from Cape Canaveral, on its way towards the Sun. This is the beginning of a 7 year nominal mission dedicated to observing the polar regions of our star and the mechanisms at play in the Sun's inner heliosphere.

At the Planetary Defence office we took the opportunity of the Solar Orbiter launch to perform an observational exercise, attempting to image the departing spacecraft with a ground based optical telescope. The observational characteristics of an outgoing object, a few hours after launch, are usually similar to an incoming impactor of similar size, thus providing a direct test of the capabilities of the instruments in our network. A similar exercise was already successfully attempted with the ExoMars launch in 2016.

Thanks to the accurate post-launch trajectory provided by ESOC's Mission Analysis team, we were able to use the Calar Alto Schmidt telescope in Spain to detect the departing spacecraft just after local sunset. At the time of the observation, the object was 310 000 km away from the Earth, and pretty faint, at magnitude 19.5.

Astrometric observations of the object obtained during the observing sessions can be downloaded from here.



Animation of 8 cropped individual frames containing the Solar Orbiter spacecraft, each 10 seconds long. The object is faintly visible near the centre, moving diagonally across the frame. The entire sequence covers a timespan of a bit less than 10 minutes in total.




The ZTF Survey scores the asteroid with the smallest aphelion distance

09 January 2020

The year has just started, and we already have a very interesting discovery of a new and so far unique asteroid.

The Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), a survey program currently operating the Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory, has been dedicating some time to survey observations at very low solar elongations. These observations are capable of finding objects with orbits located entirely within the orbit of the Earth, the so-called Atira objects, or IEOs (Interior-Earth Objects). ZTF had already found quite a few of them last year, including 2019 LF6, the asteroid with the shortest known orbital period. So far, only about 20 are known, showing how difficult it is to discover them.

On 4 January 2020 they were observing an area at less than 40° of elongation from the Sun, when they discovered a new object that looked like a promising Atira candidate. Subsequent observations showed that the object was even more interesting: with an aphelion at just 0.654 au, the object's orbit is entirely contained within the orbit of planet Venus, making it the first known representative of the so-called "Vatira" class, the Venusian equivalent of Earth's Atiras.

The object is now designated 2020 AV2. It has an orbital period of 151 days, almost identical to 2019 LF6, but its lower eccentricity of just 0.178 makes it the natural object with the smallest known aphelion in our Solar System (except for planet Mercury).


2020 AV2 observed from the Abastumani observatory in Georgia on 6 January 2020, in the context of our collaboration with the ISON network. At the time of the observation, the asteroid was located just 20° over the local horizon, at an elongation of 39° from the Sun.

Credit: ISON Abastumani (Kharadze Abastumani Astrophysical Observatory, Ilya State University)