Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 12:00 UK

Record spin for newfound asteroid

Asteroid 2008 HJ
2008 HJ (stripe at centre) moved 1,600km in the time to take this image

The fastest spinning natural object in the Solar System has been discovered by a British amateur astronomer.

The compact stony asteroid 2008 HJ - completes a full rotation once every 42.7 seconds, according to its discoverer Richard Miles.

That measurement smashes the previous record held by the asteroid 2000 DO8, which spins once every 78 seconds.

The new finding was made by the amateur astronomer while operating the Faulkes Telescope South in Australia.

2008 HJ is estimated to be some 12m by 24m in size - smaller than a tennis court. Yet it probably has a mass in excess of 5,000 tonnes.

It was moving at almost 162,000km/h (100,000 mph) when it hurtled past the Earth in late April. Despite being classified as a "near-Earth asteroid", it came no closer than one million km and never posed a threat to our planet.

But the discovery adds to astronomers' sparse understanding of very small asteroids in near-Earth orbits.

Dr Petr Pravec, an astronomer at the Ondrejov Observatory in the Czech Republic, and an expert in the field, commented: "A period of 42.7 seconds for an asteroid with a size of about 20 meters is perfectly consistent with theory.

"There may be a significant population of asteroids measuring up to a few tens of metres across, rotating in less than a minute, that have not been observed until now."

Mr Miles made the discovery while operating the Australian telescope remotely, via the internet, from his home in Dorset.

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