Inside the hunt for mysterious ‘twilight’ asteroids

Inside the hunt for mysterious ‘twilight’ asteroids

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Published July 28, 2022

11 min read

A mysterious group of asteroids grazes the heart of the solar system, hiding in sunlight and occasionally swooping close to a rocky planet. Perhaps the best known of these oddballs is a cosmic rock discovered only two years ago known as ꞌAylóꞌchaxnim, which means “Venus girl” in the language of California’s indigenous Pauma people.

As the only known asteroid that lives entirely within the orbit of Venus, ꞌAylóꞌchaxnim represents a largely unseen population of space rocks–one that could threaten life as we know it.

Astronomers estimate they’ve found the majority of the potentially hazardous asteroids that mainly exist beyond our home world’s orbit. But spotting inner asteroids is tricky because from Earth’s perspective, they live their lives sheathed in sunbeams, tucked behind a curtain of sunlight that telescopes can’t pierce. Yet in recent years, astronomers have begun to pluck these rocks from the glare by searching for their faintly glowing signatures as the sun rests just below the horizon.

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