NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has discovered a previously unknown asteroid, roughly the size of Rome’s Colosseum. The smallest cosmic object detected by Webb to date, the asteroid measures between 300 to 650 feet in length.
European astronomers using the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) of the Webb telescope made the serendipitous discovery. The asteroid was found in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter and was photobombed by the telescope. James Webb Space Telescope captures a crowded field of galaxies.
Thomas Müller, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, said, “This is a fantastic result which highlights the capabilities of MIRI to serendipitously detect a previously undetectable size of asteroid in the main belt.”
The scientists were unable to achieve their main objective but, after analyzing the data, they serendipitously detected the new asteroid. “Our results show that even ‘failed’ Webb observations can be scientifically useful, if you have the right mindset and a little bit of luck,” added Müller.
Teeny tiny photobomb! 📸— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) February 6, 2023
Scientists found a surprise while looking through test data from Webb’s MIRI instrument. Webb serendipitously captured an asteroid (illustrated here) just 100-200 meters in length — likely its smallest object seen yet: https://t.co/3wuGJXhQpP pic.twitter.com/JoBJE19lud
More observations are required to better characterize the asteroid’s nature and properties. To date, astronomers have managed to determine the exact location of over 1.1 million asteroids, but many remain unknown. The powerful infrared telescope of the James Webb Space Telescope could help find the location of these remaining asteroids.