The illustration features the orbits of 14,000 asteroids detected by Gaia. The three orbits in grey represent the orbits of three asteroids previously unknown to astronomers. Photo by ESA/Gaia/DPAC
April 29 (UPI) -- The ongoing Gaia survey has turned up a trio of new asteroids in the solar system.
The Gaia mission is an effort by astronomers to compile the largest and most precise 3D space catalog in history. Most of the space telescope's targets are faraway stars, but the observatory can also pick up objects closer to Earth, including asteroids.
The majority of the asteroids spotted by Gaia are already known, but astronomers found three new asteroids among the observations released by Gaia late last year. The three new asteroids were confirmed by observations made using the Haute-Provence Observatory in France.
The three space rocks are all main-belt asteroids, but the tilt of their orbits are slightly askew, setting them apart from their neighbors.
"The population of such high-inclination asteroids is not as well studied as those with less tilted orbits, since most surveys tend to focus on the plane where the majority of asteroids reside," the European Space Agency reported. "But Gaia can readily observe them as it scans the entire sky from its vantage point in space, so it is possible that the satellite will find more such objects in the future and contribute new information to study their properties."
An online alert system that scans Gaia data for potential discoveries and idiosyncrasies keeps astronomers all over the world abreast of noteworthy findings. After being sent an alert, scientists can deploy other observatories for followup imaging.
"Once an asteroid detected by Gaia has been identified also in ground-based observations, the scientists in charge of the alert system analyze the data to determine the object's orbit," according to ESA. "In case the ground observations match the orbit based on Gaia's data, they provide the information to the Minor Planet Center, which is the official worldwide organization collecting observational data for small solar system bodies like asteroids and comets."
Though all of the asteroids identified so far by Gaia have been inhabitants of the main asteroid belt, it's possible the space observatory could spot near Earth objects. Space agencies around the world are working hard to more effectively identify and track the trajectories of potentially hazardous space rocks.
This week, federal agencies in the United States, as well as several international partners, are participating in an asteroid impact exercise at the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference. As part of the tabletop exercise, participants responded to a fictional near-Earth object impact scenario.