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In a spin

29 May 2008

Amateur astronomer Richard Miles (BSc 1973, PhD 1976) has discovered the fastest rotating natural object known in our solar system.

His observations, made using a telescope normally shared by school students and professional scientists, have proved that the newly-discovered asteroid, 2008 HJ, is revolving once every 42.7 seconds.

Richard made his exciting discovery on 29 April using the Faulkes Telescope South (located at Siding Spring, Australia), which he operated remotely via the internet from his home in Dorset. Confirmation of his discovery was formally announced by the International Astronomical Union on 22 May.

The observations suggest that 2008 HJ is a compact stony object some 12 x 24 metres in size – smaller than a tennis court yet probably having a mass in excess of 5,000 tonnes. It was moving at almost 45 kilometres per second when it hurtled past the Earth in late April. Despite being classified as a ‘near-Earth asteroid’, it came no closer than 1 million kilometres and never posed a threat to our planet.

Dr Paul Roche, the director of the Faulkes Telescope Project at Cardiff University, said: ‘A discovery like this demonstrates the capabilities of amateur astronomers and school students to produce exciting scientific results if given the right tools. By providing Richard with access to a big telescope we have smashed the previous record, and opened up the search for even faster objects to UK amateur astronomers and school students.’