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Friday, Oct 07, 2022

Hongkonger discovers new Apollo asteroid

Hong Kong may see another “son of the star” 17 years after Stark Chan Yik-hei as a 23-year-old transmedia astronomer and astro-musician has discovered a new Apollo asteroid.
The 23-year-old Exodus Sit Chun-Long discovered the new asteroid in May through the large telescope in University of Hawaii, and the asteroid could be named after him.

The asteroid, temporarily named as “2021 JM6”', has been classified recently as a “Near Earth Asteroid” by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center.

Sit, who is an alumni of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, was glad for his discovery, as he has been dreaming of having an asteroid named after him since small.

“I have been engaging in promoting astronomy science for several years, and I am always curious if I can have an asteroid named under my name,” he told The Standard.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is currently the only organization that regulates the naming of asteroids, and there is a chance to take an extra six to 10 years to have Sit’s childhood dream come true -- as the process of naming a minor planet could take years.

After years of assessment, a minor planet, or an asteroid will have a “permanent designation”, a number issued by IAU’s Minor Planet Center in Paris. After that, the discoverer will be invited to suggest a name for approval by the IAU.

It has taken Sit six months to one year to discover the new Apollo asteroid -- where he found the process “difficult”.

Sit said he felt lucky to be able to discover the new asteroid during the pandemic as he was unable to travel to Hawaii and he could only use the telescope remotely on computer. He also worked with the team from University of Hawaii, in bringing out the analysis of thousands of photos and data.

“There are actually many asteroids in space so it is difficult to identify a new one,” he said.

“As the asteroid is only 40-meter in diameter, we took more time in research and proof works,” Sit added.

The asteroid which Sit discovered orbits the sun every 798 days, which is around 2.18 years, and it is estimated to be the closest to Earth in 2080 -- at 3.9 million kilometers away from Earth.

Despite the proximity of its orbit to Earth, NASA still considered it not potentially hazardous.

According to NASA’s computer simulations, there is no indication of likelihood of future collision.

Sit was also delighted that his analysis and simulation on the asteroid’s shape and path has been adopted by NASA’s ‘Eyes on Asteroids’ -- an online app that offers up a 3D view of the solar system with real-time tracking of asteroids and comets. People can keep an eye on the asteroids on their devices.

He hoped his discovery could be a good start in promoting astronomical technology.

As a transmedia astronomer and astro-musician, Sit said he will keep on promoting astronomy in the future, and use his creativity in combining art and science.

Before Sit, in 2005, an asteroid, 20780, was named after Stark Chan Yik-hei, who is known as “son of the star” in Hong Kong.

Chan achieved a Second Award in the Engineering Category of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his domestic security robot in 2004.

In view of his achievement at such a young age, Massachusetts Institute of Technology named an asteroid in Chan's name in 2005 when he was 16 years old.

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