HKUST graduate makes stellar discovery

A Hong Kong astronomer is hopeful of naming a new asteroid he recently discovered, with his find recognised by the official body observing minor planets, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Centre.

Exodus Sit, a University of Science and Technology graduate, said on Tuesday he is glad to have identified a new Apollo asteroid – dubbed “2021 JM6” for the time being – as he has been an avid astronomy lover since he was in primary school.

The 23-year-old said he took part in an international sky-surveying project, Pan-STARRS from January this year, and spent about five months analysing telescope images before finding the celestial object in May.

“There are a lot of asteroids in the universe, but there will be some limitations or environmental factors, including light pollution and night sky quality, so it’s really surprising that… [I was able to] use sophisticated telescopes to remotely take these pictures to discover a new asteroid,” he told RTHK.

The maths graduate said his academic background also helped him during the process.

“We’re trying to analyse some graphical features and diagrams, so there would be some mathematical and astrophysics calculations to see whether there would be some abnormal discovery.”

Sit said the small asteroid, which is 40 metres in diameter, orbits the sun every 2.2 years.

“NASA estimates in 2080, it will get closer to the Earth, but it will still remain [a distance of] approximately 3.9 million kilometres… to Earth.”

He said he hopes to name the minor planet after his Chinese moniker, Sit Chun-long, when the International Astronomical Union finalises the name in six to ten years’ time.