Fastest-orbiting asteroid zips around Sun in just 165 days

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That's the shortest year for any asteroid known to humankind, discovery team members said. And the space rock, called 2019 AQ3, could be part of a vast and virtually unknown population zooming through the inner solar system, quite close to the sun.

2019 AQ3 is a "very rare species," Ye said, adding that "there might be many more undiscovered asteroids out there like it." To be clear, asteroid 2019 AQ3's orbit isn't the fastest of any object. The planet Mercury makes one trip around the sun every 88 days. But the space rock is unique, researchers said.

Indeed, the camera has already spotted 60 new near-Earth asteroids, ZTF team members said.

Ye reported the discovery of 2019 AQ3 to the IAU (International Astronomical Union) Minor Planet Center, the organization responsible for collecting and coordinating data about asteroids and comets in our solar system.

Multiple research groups then observed the object on Jan. 6 and 7, using a variety of telescopes. Astronomers reviewed archived data as well, finding evidence of 2019 AQ3 in images captured by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii dating back to 2015.

Putting all this information together, Ye and his colleagues were able to map 2019 AQ3's orbit in detail. The asteroid zooms around the sun on an elliptical path that takes it inside Mercury's orbit at closest approach and slightly beyond Venus at its most distant point, the researchers determined. And 2019 AQ3's orbit is inclined, out of the plane of the paths taken by Earth and the solar system's other big planets.

2019 AQ3 therefore appears to belong to the Atira (also known as Apohele) class of asteroids, which have orbits interior to that of Earth. Just 20 or so space rocks, out of 800,000 known asteroids, are Atiras, researchers said.

Many more Atiras likely exist and the ones that line up Earth in their crosshairs could be especially dangerous, the researchers said. That's because these asteroids would be coming from the direction of the sun and would thus be hard to spot because of our star's overpowering glare.

2019 AQ3 is not dangerous, however. Its orbit never brings it closer to Earth than about 22 million miles (35.4 million kilometers), the researchers said.

While the size of the newfound asteroid is unclear, observations suggest that it could be almost 1 mile (1.6 km) wide. If that's the case, 2019 AQ3 would be one of the biggest Atiras known.

"In so many ways, 2019 AQ3 really is an oddball asteroid," Ye said.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2019 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes.

 

February 11, 2019

Sources: Fox

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Life has taken a sharp turn for the better: no more transfusions, no more pain, no more fear.</p><p>“He said, ‘Mom, I think I want to get me a job,’” said his mother, Leuteresa Roberts.</p><p>It is still early in the course of these experimental treatments, and it is likely to be at least three years before one is approved. Although researchers hope the effects will last, they cannot be certain.</p><p>“We are in uncharted territory,” said Dr. David A. Williams, chief scientific officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. </p><p>At the moment, the only remedy for sickle-cell disease is a dangerous and expensive bone marrow transplant, an option rarely used. An effective gene therapy would not be simple or inexpensive, but it could change the lives of tens of thousands of people.</p><p>“This would be the first genetic cure of a common genetic disease,” said Dr. Edward Benz, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. </p><p>It also would mark a turning point for a large community of underserved patients. Most of them have African ancestry, but Hispanics and those with southern European, Middle Eastern or Asian backgrounds are also affected. </p><p>Experts have long maintained that advances in treatment have been limited partly because sickle-cell disease is concentrated in less affluent minority communities. </p><p>“Having tried for a number of years to raise philanthropic money, I can tell you it’s really hard,” said Dr. Williams.</p><p>In sickle-cell disease, blood cells stuffed with hemoglobin are distorted into sickle shapes. The misshapen cells get stuck in blood vessels, causing strokes, organ damage and episodes of agonizing pain — called crises — as muscles are starved of oxygen. Children usually return to normal between crises, but teenagers and adults may suffer chronic pain. </p><p>The misshapen cells don’t survive long in the blood — 10 to 20 days, compared to the usual 120 days. Patients may be severely anemic and prone to infections.</p><p>Daily life can be a challenge. Many adults with sickle-cell disease have no health insurance, especially in states that did not expand Medicaid, noted Dr. John Tisdale, a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health. </p><p>Employment can be difficult because the disease is debilitating. Yet many who apply for Social Security disability are denied, Dr. Tisdale said. They end up at emergency rooms when they are in crisis.</p><p>Mrs. Roberts’ son, Mr. Williams, was devastated and terrified. He told her he had suffered too much, and his big sister’s death brought home to him the fact that his life, too, could end at any moment. He wanted to stop the monthly blood transfusions that were easing his symptoms. He wanted to go ahead and die.</p><p>Then Dr. Alexis Thompson, a sickle-cell specialist at Northwestern University, told Mr. Williams that he could join a new study of gene therapy that might help. There were no guarantees, and there was a chance Mr. Williams could die from the treatment.</p><p>Mr. Williams was enthusiastic, but his mother was filled with trepidation. In the end, she decided “we’ve got to try something,” she recalled.</p><p>“I was so overwhelmed,” Mrs. Roberts recalled. “I cried tears of joy.” </p><p>In the 1980s, when researchers first began thinking of gene therapy to correct genetic disorders, sickle-cell disease was at the top of the list.</p><p>In theory, it seemed straightforward — just one tiny change in a single gene led to a lifetime of misery and an early death. </p><p>Every patient had exactly the same genetic mutation. To cure the disease, all scientists needed to do was to fix this one genetic error. </p><p>But it was not so easy. Among the many problems that plagued gene therapy research, there were ones specific to sickle-cell disease.</p><p>That left researchers with a problem. “How do you manipulate a gene, or put a gene in, so it is expressed only in those cells and at high levels?” Dr. Benz asked.</p><p>Scientists are testing three methods for modifying stem cells. In the first, a form of gene therapy, a virus is used to insert a viable copy of the hemoglobin gene into the stem cells. </p><p>Until recently, the viruses had a limited capacity to carry genes, and the hemoglobin gene simply would not fit. Only recently have scientists found viruses that can do the job. </p><p>The second approach starts with the fact that the human genome can make two kinds of hemoglobin: fetal hemoglobin, active in the fetus but shut off after birth, and adult hemoglobin. </p><p>“We’ve known for decades that hemoglobin is different in a fetus — it doesn’t sickle, and it works as well as adult hemoglobin,” said Dr. Stuart Orkin, a researcher at Harvard University who found the hemoglobin switch. </p><p>With recent advances, all three approaches now seem feasible. Farthest along is a new iteration of gene therapy to produce fetal hemoglobin, currently in trials conducted by Bluebird Bio, a biotech company in Cambridge, Mass.</p><p>Bluebird is now planning a larger study, in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration, that will enroll 41 patients, all of whom will get gene therapy. The company hopes to finish the study and get approval in 2022.</p><p>Following recent scientific advances, the N.I.H. has launched an initiative called Cure Sickle Cell to speed progress. </p><p>It will bring “significant new money,” said Dr. Keith Hoots, a division director at the institutes, although the total has not yet been determined. </p><p>For many of the pioneering patients in these trials, the results have been remarkable.</p><p>Carmen Duncan, 20, of Charleston, S.C., had her spleen removed when she was 2, a result of complications from sickle-cell disease. She spent much of her childhood in and out of hospitals. </p><p>“Sometimes I would stay two weeks,” she said. Her arms and legs would ache from blocked blood vessels. “A simple touch really hurt.”</p><p>Monthly blood transfusions helped, she said, but they were onerous. Then she entered Bluebird’s gene therapy trial. </p><p>Manny Hernandez, 20, was the first patient in a trial at Boston Children’s Hospital in which researchers are attempting to restart production of fetal hemoglobin. It worked: Doctors say he no longer has the disease.</p><p>And Mr. Williams? He wound up in the gene therapy trial run by Bluebird. </p><p>His mother will never forget the call she got from Dr. Thompson, saying her son was producing enough normal blood cells. For him, too, sickle-cell disease has disappeared.</p><p>“I was like, yes, yes, thank you Lord,” Mrs. Roberts said.</p>

    1 January 27, 2019

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