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Monday, 15 May, 2000, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
Survey turns up 'lost' asteroid
Albert US Naval Observatory
Albert makes a tail across the photographic plate
Astronomers have rediscovered a "lost'' asteroid, named 719 Albert, which was last seen in 1911.

The space rock orbits the Sun every 4.28 years at a distance that can reach 480 million kilometres (300 million miles).

719 Albert was the only object in the numbered sequence of 14,788 asteroids, that began with the discovery of (1) Ceres in 1801, for which the current position was not known.

The detection was made by Dr Jeff Larsen of the University of Arizona's SpaceWatch team, which hunts the sky for near earth objects (NEOs).

No threat to Earth

"This object was very faint, almost at the limits of what SpaceWatch can do, and it wasn't moving all that fast,'' Dr Larsen said.

"But it caught my eye because it was moving differently from its neighbours. It moved like an NEO.''

His faint object was later identified as Albert by Gareth Williams, an associate director of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center. Gareth Williams has long sought the missing asteroid and has now managed to calculate precise details about its orbit.

Albert makes its closest swings by Earth every 30 years - in 1911, 1941, 1971 and 2001. "It's never going to hit Earth," said SpaceWatch director Dr Robert McMillan. The closest approaches are between about 30 million km (19 million miles) and 46 million km (29 million miles) from Earth, or never closer than roughly a fifth the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

Estimates of size

Astronomers plan to learn more about Albert when it comes within 43 million km (27 million miles) of Earth on 5 Sept, 2001. They would like to know for sure its size, rotation period and other physical characteristics

Current estimates of size range between 2 kilometres (1.24 miles) and 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) in diameter.

Albert was first seen by Johann Palisa at the Vienna Observatory on the night of 3-4 October, 1911. The asteroid was named in 1913 in honour of Baron Albert Freiherr von Rothschild, a benefactor of the Vienna Observatory.

"Other asteroid surveys would have found this eventually, but finding it now gives astronomers time to apply for telescope time on larger telescopes for detailed observations of the asteroid," Dr McMillan said.

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