This Article is From Feb 07, 2023

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Detects Smallest Asteroid Between Mars And Jupiter

An asteroid the size of Rome's Colosseum has been found by astronomers using the JWST in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Detects Smallest Asteroid Between Mars And Jupiter

An illustration of an asteroid.

Researchers using NASA's James Webb Space Telescope have discovered an asteroid that is about the size of Rome's Colosseum and ranges in length from 300 to 650 feet (100 to 200 meters). The object was discovered by a global team of astronomers from Europe, and is probably the smallest one that JWST has ever seen.

As per NASA's release, the object is an example of an object measuring under 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) in length within the main asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter. More observations are needed to better characterise this object's nature and properties.

"We completely unexpectedly detected a small asteroid in publicly available MIRI calibration observations," explained Thomas Muller, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany.

"The measurements are some of the first MIRI measurements targeting the ecliptic plane, and our work suggests that many new objects will be detected with this instrument."

"Our results show that even 'failed' Webb observations can be scientifically useful, if you have the right mindset and a little bit of luck." "Our detection lies in the main asteroid belt, but Webb's incredible sensitivity made it possible to see this roughly 100-meter object at a distance of more than 100 million kilometers," elaborated Muller.

The discovery of this new asteroid has significant ramifications for our comprehension of the creation and development of the solar system. Astronomers will be able to examine asteroids less than one kilometre in size thanks to future dedicated Webb-scale investigations.

"This is a fantastic result that highlights the capabilities of MIRI to serendipitously detect a previously undetectable size of asteroid in the main belt," concluded Bryan Holler, a Webb support scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. "Repeats of these observations are in the process of being scheduled, and we are fully expecting new asteroid interlopers in those images."

Webb, which has been operational since July, is the most powerful space telescope ever built and has unleashed a raft of unprecedented data as well as stunning images.