The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has made available to the public the world's largest database of asteroids in the solar system.
Although there are believed to be more than 500,000 asteroids in our solar system, it is difficult for astronomers to observe these minor planets. As a result, even the size of many of them remains unknown.
JAXA focused on data on infrared rays emitted from asteroids, sent from its Akari astronomical satellite launched in 2006. By examining this data closely, the organization has been able to determine with a high degree of accuracy the size of 5,120 minor planets, including those with a diameter of hundreds of meters, which is considered relatively small for astronomical bodies.
JAXA's asteroid database is larger than previous ones, which gave information on the size of about 2,000 asteroids at the most. The database is available on JAXA's Web site.
"Our database will be useful not only for asteroid exploration such as that undertaken by [Japan's] Hayabusa space probe, but also for research into how the solar system came into existence," a JAXA official said.
Many asteroids in the solar system occupy a region between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, dubbed the "asteroid belt" due to its doughnut-like shape. Some asteroids can also be found nearer Earth, such as the Itokawa asteroid Hayabusa landed on in 2005.
(Oct. 18, 2011)