Lost minor planet

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Far more than half a million minor planets have been observed, many of which must be considered lost due to insufficient observational data.[1][2]

Lost minor planets are minor planets that observers lose track of due to too short an observation arc to accurately predict the future location of the minor planet. Many of the asteroids that were discovered early were lost and rediscovered in the 1980s and 1990s, but a number of minor planets continue to be lost.[3] By some definitions, thousands, if not tens of thousands observed minor planets are lost—they cannot be found by pointing an appropriate telescope at their predicted location, because the uncertainty in their predicted orbit is too large or they are currently too faint to be detected.[2]

Some minor planets and comets discovered in previous decades were "lost" because not enough observational data had been obtained to determine a reliable orbit. Without this information, astronomers would not 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 determined by calculating the "new" object's orbit backwards and checking its past positions against those previously recorded for the lost object. In the case of lost comets this is especially tricky because of nongravitational forces that can affect their orbits, such as emission of jets of gas from the comet nucleus. However, Brian G. Marsden has specialized in calculating such nongravitational forces. Notably, he successfully predicted the 1992 return of the once-lost periodic comet Swift–Tuttle.

20th-century recoveries[edit]

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.[4]


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.
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.[5][6]
The outer main-belt asteroid, provisionally designated 1949 HC, was discovered on 25 April 1949 by Ernest Leonard Johnson at Johannesburg (UO).[7] It is one of very few asteroids located in the 2:1 mean-motion resonance with Jupiter.[8] 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.[5][6]

1980s and 1990s[edit]

L. K. Kristensen at the University of Aarhus rediscovered 452 Hamiltonia and 1537 Transylvania, along with numerous other small objects, in 1981.[9] 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 remained unobserved since their discoveries:[9]

Adalberta, provisionally designated 1892 X, was not rediscovered, since it turned out to be an erroneous observation. The designation was later reassigned to A910 CB after 1892 X was determined to be a false positive.[10] 2006 HH123 was another lost minor planet that turned out to be a false positive.
Nicolaia, provisionally designated 1916 AN, was rediscovered at the Heidelberg Astronomisches Rechen-Institut in 1981.[11]
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.[12]
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.[13][14]
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).[14]
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.[14][15]
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.[16]
Ingrid was discovered by Karl Reinmuth on 13 August 1923 and given the provisional designation 1923 NY.[5] It was reidentified in 1986 by Syuichi Nakano.[17]
Mally was discovered by Max Wolf on 19 March 1931 and given the provisional designation 1931 FD.[5] It was rediscovered in 1986 by Lutz Schmadel, Richard Martin West and Hans-Emil Schuster.[18]

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.[19]

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.[20]

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.

21st century[edit]

2007 WD5 is a 50 m (160 ft) Apollo-class[21] near-Earth object and a Mars-crosser asteroid 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.[22] 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.[23] 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 Jet Propulsion Laboratory Near Earth Object program, 2007 WD5 is currently considered "lost".[22][24] The best fit trajectory had the asteroid passing within 21,000 km of Mars and only 16,000 km from its moon Deimos.[23][25]

In the search for various types of near-Earth object, such as quasi-satellites and Earth-crosser asteroids, objects that may correspond to some lost sightings include 2006 RH120 or 3753 Cruithne, among others.[citation needed]

In 2007, the object 2007 RR9 was found to be the 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.[26]


Default list is in increasing order of minor planet number (see List of minor planets). This is really just a small selection of early lost asteroids that were recovered, with some additional examples because the true number of lost asteroids by some definitions is over 150,000.[2]

Name(s) Discovered Rediscovered
132 Aethra 1873 1922[4]
330 Adalberta (1892 X) 1892 false positive
452 Hamiltonia 1899 1987
473 Nolli 1901 1987
719 Albert 1911 2000
724 Hapag 1911 1988
843 Nicolaia 1916 1981
878 Mildred 1916 1991
1009 Sirene 1923 1982[16]
1026 Ingrid 1923 1986
1179 Mally 1931 1986
1537 Transylvania 1940 1981
1862 Apollo 1932 1973
1916 Boreas 1953[5] 1976
1922 Zulu 1949 1974
2101 Adonis 1936 1977
3494 Purple Mountain 1962 1980
3789 Zhongguo 1928 1986
7796 Járacimrman 1973 1996
29075 1950 DA 1950 2000
69230 Hermes 1937 2003[5][27]

Provisional designation only[edit]

A very small[2] selection of lost asteroids with provisional designations. There are more than 30,000 lost objects (U ≥ 9),[28] that have an observation arc too short to determine where the object currently is. As of May 2015, there are 661 near-Earth objects with less than a 2-day observation arc.[29]

Name(s) Discovered Rediscovered Note
1927 LA 1927 Lost Observed 4 times between June 1, 1927 and July 5, 1927
1991 BA 1991 Lost Passed within a lunar distance of Earth
1993 HD 1993 Lost[30] Near-Earth asteroid
1995 SN55 1995 Lost May be the largest centaur
2007 WD5 2007 Lost Passed close to Mars
6344 P–L 1960 2007[26] Potentially hazardous object; probably a dormant comet

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Running Tallies – Minor Planets Discovered". IAU Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 19 August 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d '''Asteroids: overview, abstracts, and bibliography''' (2002), by Edward C. Blair, Page 177. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  3. ^ Lost asteroid. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 27 February 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/topic/lost-asteroid
  4. ^ a b '''The planet observer's handbook''' (2000), By Fred William Price, Page 192. (Google Books 2010). Books.google.com. 2000-10-26. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Discovery Circumstances: Numbered Minor Planets (1)–(5000)". IAU: Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 5 July 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Brian G. Marsden (24 October 1974). "International Astronomical Union Circular 2710". Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. Retrieved 5 July 2011. 
  7. ^ "Discovery Circumstances: Numbered Minor Planets (1)–(5000)". IAU: Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 7 December 2008. 
  8. ^ Roig; Nesvorny, D.; Ferraz-Mello, S. (2002). "Asteroids in the 2 : 1 resonance with Jupiter: dynamics and size distribution". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 335 (2): 417–431. Bibcode:2002MNRAS.335..417R. doi:10.1046/j.1365-8711.2002.05635.x. 
  9. ^ a b (1537) Transylvania and (452) Hamiltonia Kristensen, L. K.; Gibson, J.; Shao, C.-Y.; Bowell, E.; Marsden, B. G. IAU Circ., 3595, 1 (1981). Edited by Marsden, B. G. [1]
  10. ^ "JPL Small-Body Database Browser: 330 Adalberta (A910 CB)". Retrieved September 2015. 
  11. ^ http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/112427258/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0 Recovery of the Long Lost Minor Planet (843) Nicolaia after 65 Years (Astronomisches Rechen-Institut Heidelberg – Mitteilungen Serie B) L. D. Schmadel 1 *, L. Kohoutek 2 * Heidelberg Astronomisches Rechen-Institut
  12. ^ IAUC 4292
  13. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (1997). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names. Springer Science+Business Media. p. 70. ISBN 0-354-06174-7. 
  14. ^ a b c Cowen, Ron (20 May 2000). "Astronomers Rediscover Long-Lost Asteroid" 157 (21). Science News. [dead link]
  15. ^ "IAU Circular: IAUC 5275". 25 May 1991. 
  16. ^ a b "(1009) Sirene Gibson, J.; Kristensen, L. K. IAU Circ., 3714, 1 (1982). Edited by Marsden, B. G". Adsabs.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  17. ^ Brian G. Marsden (8 December 1986). "International Astronomical Union Circular 4281". Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. Retrieved 5 July 2011. 
  18. ^ Brian G. Marsden (5 December 1986). "International Astronomical Union Circular 4278". Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. Retrieved 5 July 2011. 
  19. ^ Schmadel, Lutz (2003). Dictionary of minor planet names (fifth ed.). Germany: Springer. p. 320. ISBN 3-540-00238-3. Retrieved 7 January 2009. 
  20. ^ "Earth Impact Risk Summary: 29075 1950 DA". NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office. Nov 26, 2013. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  21. ^ "JPL Small-Body Database Browser: 2007WD5". Retrieved 12 January 2008. 
  22. ^ a b Don Yeomans, Paul Chodas and Steve Chesley (28 December 2007). "Mars Impact Probability Increases to 4 Percent". NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office. Retrieved 28 December 2007. 
  23. ^ a b Steve Chesley, Paul Chodas and Don Yeomans (9 January 2008). "2007 WD5 Mars Collision Effectively Ruled Out – Impact Odds now 1 in 10,000". NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office. Retrieved 9 January 2008. 
  24. ^ Lakdawalla, Emily (4 February 2008). "WD5 most likely missed Mars, but we may never know". Retrieved 24 February 2008. 
  25. ^ "Horizons Archive Mars/Earth 2003/2008". Retrieved 23 December 2007.  (Soln.date: 2007-Dec-23)
  26. ^ a b "Long-Lost, Dangerous Asteroid Is Found Again – ScienceDaily (15 Oct. 2007)". Sciencedaily.com. 2007-10-15. Retrieved 2015-08-18. 
  27. ^ "MPEC 2003-T74 : 1937 UB (HERMES)". Minorplanetcenter.net. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  28. ^ "JPL Small-Body Database Search Engine: condition code >= 9". JPL Solar System Dynamics. Retrieved 2015-05-17. 
  29. ^ "JPL Small-Body Database Search Engine: NEOs and data-arc span < 2 (d)". JPL Small-Body Database. Retrieved 2014-11-02. 
  30. ^ "1993 HD". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 

External links[edit]