Washington, May 29 : A British amateur astronomer has discovered a record-breaking asteroid, which is the fastest rotating natural object known in our Solar System.
The previous record holder was asteroid 2000 DO8, discovered eight years ago and found to rotate once every 78 seconds.
Astronomer Richard Miles detected the object on April 29th using the Faulkes Telescope South, which is located at Siding Spring in Australia.
Classified as a 'superfast rotator', the newly discovered asteroid, known as 2008 HJ, revolves once every 42.7 seconds.
This latest discovery is the most recent outcome of a new project to use the Faulkes Telescopes, situated in Hawaii and Australia, to survey the properties of small near-Earth asteroids.
The observations suggest that 2008 HJ is a compact stony object some 12m x 24m 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 (more than 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 1 million km and never posed a threat to our planet.
According to Dr Petr Pravec, an astronomer at the Ondrejov Observatory (Czech Republic), "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," he added.
It is believed that most of these objects are probably fragments ejected from collisions between larger bodies, which took place some time in the distant past.
However, other objects may have originated when the solar nebula was formed over 4.6 billion years ago.