Lost minor planet
A minor planet is "lost" when today's observers cannot find it because they can no longer accurately predict its location with targeted observations and await serendipitous survey observations. This happens if the orbital elements of a minor planet are not known accurately enough, typically because the observation arc for the object is too short. Many previously lost asteroids (a type of minor planet) were rediscovered in the 1980s and 1990s, but many minor planets are still lost.
By some definitions thousands, if not tens of thousands, of mostly small observed minor planets are lost—they cannot be seen by pointing an appropriate telescope at their predicted locations because the uncertainty of the predicted orbits is too large. Some lost minor planets discovered in decades past cannot be found because the available observational data is insufficient for reliable orbit determination. With limited information astronomers cannot know where to look for the object at future dates.
Occasionally a "newly discovered" object turns out to be a rediscovery of a previously lost object. This can be established by calculating backwards the "new" object's orbit (once it is firmly known) and checking past positions against those previously recorded for the lost object. This usually greatly extends the object's arc length, thus fixing the orbit much more precisely. The back-orbit calculations are especially tricky for lost comets because their orbits can be affected by non-gravitational forces, such as emission of jets of gas from the comet nucleus.
This is a small selection of some early lost or notable asteroids with their discovery and rediscovery dates. (A more detailed description for some of these minor planets can be found in the following sections.) The true number of lost asteroids may be over 150,000. There are also about 30,000 unnumbered bodies with a condition code of U = 9, indicating the highest possible uncertainty of their orbit determination. Many of these bodies have been observed years if not decades ago and must be considered lost.[a] There are also more than a thousand near-Earth objects (NEOs) with an observation arc of one or two days only.
The number of asteroids that were only observed once and not re-observed grew throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, but improved telescopes, searches, and detection techniques led to resolution of most of these cases between 1970 and 2000. There are earlier examples also, such as 132 Aethra, which was lost between 1873 and 1922.
|1862 Apollo||Apollo is a Q-type asteroid, discovered by Karl Reinmuth in 1932, but lost and not recovered until 1973. Another Apollo asteroid is 2101 Adonis, discovered by Eugene Delporte in 1936 and lost until 1977 when it was rediscovered by Charles T. Kowal. It was also one of the first near-Earth asteroids to be discovered.|
|1916 Boreas||The Amor asteroid Boreas, provisionally designated 1953 RA, was discovered on 1 September 1953 by Sylvain Julien Victor Arend at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, and rediscovered in 1974 by Richard Eugene McCrosky, G. Schwartz and JH Bulger based on a predicted position by Brian G. Marsden.|
|1922 Zulu||The outer main-belt asteroid, provisionally designated 1949 HC, was discovered on 25 April 1949 by Ernest Leonard Johnson at Johannesburg (UO). It is one of very few asteroids located in the 2:1 mean-motion resonance with Jupiter. This asteroid was lost shortly after discovery and only rediscovered in 1974 by Richard Eugene McCrosky, Cheng-yuan Shao and JH Bulger based on a predicted position by C. M. Bardwell of the Cincinnati Observatory.|
1980s and 1990sEdit
Leif Kahl Kristensen at the University of Aarhus rediscovered 452 Hamiltonia and 1537 Transylvania, along with numerous other small objects, in 1981. At the time these results were published, only the nine numbered minor planets 330 Adalberta, 473 Nolli, 719 Albert, 724 Hapag, 843 Nicolaia, 878 Mildred, 1009 Sirene, 1026 Ingrid, and 1179 Mally (below) had remained unobserved since their discoveries:
|330 Adalberta||The object originally named Adalberta, provisionally designated 1892 X, turned out to be an erroneous observation. The designation was later reassigned to A910 CB.|
|843 Nicolaia||Nicolaia, provisionally designated 1916 AN, was rediscovered at the Heidelberg Astronomisches Rechen-Institut in 1981.|
|473 Nolli||Nolli, provisionally designated 1901 GC, was discovered by Max Wolf on 13 February 1901, but it remained lost for many decades until it was recovered finally in 1987, 86 years later.|
|724 Hapag||Hapag had first been found by Johann Palisa in 1911. It was given the provisional name 1911 NC, but was lost until it was rediscovered in 1988.|
|719 Albert||Near-Earth asteroid 719 Albert (1911 MT) had also been found by Johann Palisa in 1911. Due to inaccuracies in its computed orbit, Albert was also lost and not recovered until 2000, when Jeffrey A. Larsen located it using data from the Spacewatch asteroid survey project. At the time of its rediscovery, Albert was the last remaining "lost asteroid" among those assigned numbers (since 69230 Hermes was not numbered until 2003).|
|878 Mildred||Mildred, provisionally designated 1916 f, was originally discovered in 1916 using the 60-inch Hale telescope at the Californian Mount Wilson Observatory, but was subsequently lost until it was again observed on single nights in 1985 and 1991.|
|1009 Sirene||Sirene, provisionally designated 1923 PE, was recovered in 1982 by J. Gibson using exposures form the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory, and he revised its ephemeris.|
|1026 Ingrid||Ingrid was discovered by Karl Reinmuth on 13 August 1923 and given the provisional designation 1923 NY. It was reidentified in 1986 by Syuichi Nakano.|
|1179 Mally||Mally was discovered by Max Wolf on 19 March 1931 and given the provisional designation 1931 FD. It was rediscovered in 1986 by Lutz Schmadel, Richard Martin West and Hans-Emil Schuster.|
- Other notable recoveries
- While studying in Chicago in 1928, Zhang Yuzhe discovered an asteroid that was given the provisional designation 1928 UF, and later the number 1125. He named it "China", or "中華" Zhōnghuá. However, this asteroid was not observed beyond its initial appearance and a precise orbit could not be calculated. In 1957, the Purple Mountain Observatory in China discovered a new asteroid, and with Zhang Yuzhe's agreement the new object 1957 UN1 was reassigned the official designation 1125 China in place of the lost 1928 UF. However, in 1986, the newly discovered object 1986 QK1 was confirmed to be a rediscovery of the original 1928 UF, and this object was named 3789 Zhongguo, which is also a name for China.
- The near-Earth asteroid (29075) 1950 DA was discovered on 23 February 1950 by Carl Wirtanen at Lick Observatory. It was observed for 17 days and then lost, since not enough observations were made to allow its orbit to be plotted. It was then rediscovered on 31 December 2000. The chance it will impact Earth on 16 March 2880 is about 1 in 4,000, or 0.025 percent.
- 7796 Járacimrman was discovered at the Czech Kleť Observatory on 16 January 1996 by Zdeněk Moravec and was designated 1996 BG. It was observed until April 1996 and then in June and July 1997. It was revealed, by precovery, to be a lost asteroid which had previously been observed twice: at the Brera-Merate Observatory in northern Italy on 12 December 1973 and at the Australian Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra, on 8 and 9 July 1990.
- Recently lost minor planets
- 2007 WD5 is a 50 m (160 ft) Apollo-class NEO and a Mars-crosser discovered on 20 November 2007, by Andrea Boattini of the Catalina Sky Survey. Early observations of 2007 WD5 caused excitement amongst the scientific community when it was estimated as having as high as a 1 in 25 chance of colliding with Mars on 30 January 2008. However, by 9 January 2008 additional observations allowed NASA's Near Earth Object Program (NEOP) to reduce the uncertainty region resulting in only a 1-in-10,000 chance of impact. 2007 WD5 most likely passed Mars at a distance of 6.5 Mars radii. Due to this relatively small distance and the uncertainty level of the prior observations, the gravitational effects of Mars on its trajectory are unknown and, according to Steven Chesley of NASA's JPL-Near Earth Object program, 2007 WD5 is currently considered "lost". The best fit trajectory had the asteroid passing within 21,000 km of Mars and only 16,000 km from its moon Deimos.
- 2010 AU118 is a kilometer-sized Amor-class NEO and Mars-crosser discovered on 27 May 2010, by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft. The asteroid was only observed 19 times during 13–15 January 2010, and has not since been observed. Virtual clones of the asteroid that fit the uncertainty region in the known trajectory, showed a 1 in 770 million chance that the asteroid could impact the Earth on 2020 October 20. However, NEODyS lists the nominal 20 October 2020 Earth distance as 3 AU (450,000,000 km; 280,000,000 mi).
- In 2007, the object 2007 RR9 was found to be the near-Earth asteroid 6344 P–L, lost since 1960. It is a potentially hazardous object and probably a dormant comet, although it was not visibly outgassing at that time.
- 2021 PH27, discovered on August 13, 2021, has the closest known orbit to the Sun. Given its limited observation arc prior to solar conjunction, its positional uncertainty after it exits in 2022 is expected to have grown up to several thousand arcseconds, which will render it lost.
- Note: this query at JPL's Small-Body Database lists all unnamed asteroids with an orbital uncertainty of 9, which also includes recently discovered bodies. The lost minor planets appear first, since the table is sorted by the body's first observation date.
- On 18 March 1892, a body discovered by Max Wolf with the provisional designation 1892 X was originally named 330 Adalberta, but was lost and never recovered. In 1982, it was determined that Wolf erroneously measured two images of stars, not asteroids. Because it was a false positive and the body never existed, the named designation 330 Adalberta was reused for another asteroid, A910 CB, discovered in 1910.
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