The European Space Agency (ESA) Gaia satellite has made some unexpected discoveries. Normally designed to find and track stars, the satellite spotted three new asteroids.
Scanning the sky
"While scanning the sky to chart a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, ESA’s Gaia satellite is also sensitive to celestial bodies closer to home, and regularly observes asteroids in our Solar System," reads ESA's press release.
Most of these observed asteroid's are already known, however, this time Gaia spotted three entirely new asteroids. The celestial objects were discovered in December 2018 and later confirmed by the Haute-Provence Observatory in France.
The asteroids are part of the main belt of asteroids. However, they move around the Sun on orbits with an unusual greater tilt (15 degrees or more) compared to most main-belt asteroids.
Objects with higher tilts are not as well studied since most surveys tend to focus on the plane where the majority of asteroids reside. Gaia, however, caught them because the satellite can readily scan the entire sky.
An online alert system
Whenever Gaia spots asteroids, that information is shared through an online alert system. This prompts astronomers worldwide to undertake follow-up observations.
Once confirmed in ground-based analysis, the object’s orbit is then determined.
"So far, several tens of asteroids detected by Gaia have been observed from the ground in response to the alert system, all of them belonging to the main belt, but it is possible that also near-Earth asteroids will be spotted in the future," reads ESA's release.
We are excited to see what other discoveries Gaia has in store. Are you?