Observation arc

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Observation arc is a term used in observational astronomy, most particularly in discovery and tracking of asteroids and comets. It refers to the length of the path traced by the observations of the object.

The observation arc determines how accurately known the orbit of the object is. A very short arc could describe objects in a wide variety of orbits, at many distances from Earth. In some cases, there have been objects whose initial arc was insufficient to determine if the object was in orbit around the Earth, or orbiting out in the asteroid belt. With a 1 day observation arc, 2004 PR107 was thought to be a trans-Neptunian dwarf planet, but is now known to be a 1km main-belt asteroid. With an observation arc of 3 days 2004 BX159 was thought to be a Mars-crossing asteroid that could be a threat to Earth, but it is now known to be a main-belt asteroid.

An observation arc less than 30 days can make it difficult to recover an object more than a year after the last observation.

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