A new object receiving the designation 2011 RC17 was discovered in the course of a sky survey on Sept 2, 2011, but it only became known a few days ago… This happened because, at the time of discovery, the object had too low an MPC rating, which indicates whether the object might be interesting or it might be a typical main belt asteroid. In this case, the program that determines the rating was mistaken; consequently, the object was not flagged by our observatory for follow-up and had every chance to leave without revealing its true nature.

That did not happen, in part, because the object was detected initially in the morning sky, far from the antisolar point and moved closer to it only a month and a half later. This area of the sky is heavily studied by the surveys, and the object was found again. It happened on September 23 at Mt. Lemmon Observatory. After that, the object was again lost for a month before its opposition. Near opposition the object was observed by several observatories, and not until the second half of November were all of these disparate measurements related and identified as one object, discovered by our observatory 2.5 months ago!

That is how such an unknown object so quickly got such a precise orbit, so that now it will not be lost. By itself, this is an illustrative story, a short history of how the mechanism works for searching for new objects in the solar system. But also the new asteroid itself – 2011 RC17, turned out to be not very simple. In terms of orbital elements it defies classification, it is most like a Centaurs, but this group of asteroids moves between the orbits of Jupiter and Neptune without coming into the inner solar system. Asteroid 2011 RC17’s perihelion distance is slightly less than 3 a.u., i.e., it comes just inside the main asteroid belt.

Such an orbit is closer to that of a comet, and naturally, it was immediately suggested that this object may be the nucleus of a comet, inactive at the present time. Maybe so, but unfortunately, there is no sign of cometary activity in this object. Now asteroid 2011 RC17 is already moving away from the Sun, and if cometary activity is not observed there now, it can hardly appear before the asteroid’s next approach to the Sun, which will take place in exactly 16 years. At that time, we will again try to solve the mystery of this interesting object.

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