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Icarus (Asteroid) Worksheets

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Key Facts & Information

  • 1566 Icarus is an asteroid with an extremely eccentric orbit, and, being a near-Earth object of the Apollo group, was the first to be observed by radar.


  • The asteroid 1566 Icarus was named after the son of Daedalus from Greek mythology. Both characters wanted to escape from prison by constructing wings made from feathers and wax.
  • Awestruck by the prospect of flying, young Icarus ignored his father’s warnings not to fly too close to the Sun. As Icarus approached the Sun, the wax in his wings started to melt, and he tragically fell into the sea and drowned.
  • The heavenly body was named by R.C. Cameron and Dr. Folkman, probably due to the asteroid’s proximity to the Sun. This naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center in January 1950.
  • 1566 Icarus was discovered in 1949 by the German astronomer Walter Baade. It later became the first asteroid ever observed by radar in 1968.


  • All asteroids are leftovers/debris from when the Solar System formed around 4.6 billion years ago. The leading theory is that the birth of Jupiter unavoidably prevented the leftovers from developing into the gap between Mars and Jupiter. This caused the smaller celestial bodies to collide with one another and resulted in even smaller ones, with variations in their orbits.

Classification And Associations

  • Icarus belongs to the Apollo group of asteroids. They are a group of near-Earth asteroids that typically have an orbital semi-major axis more significant than that of our planet and a perihelion less than it.
  • Many believe that Icarus is the source of the Arietids meteor shower, which occurs during daylight. However, there are more objects which are believed to be the source; it is still disputed.
  • The radiometric observations classified Icarus as either a stony S-type asteroid, which typically has a siliceous mineralogical composition or the Q-type asteroids where metal is present.
  • Though Icarus was considered for some time to be the closest object to the Sun, it lost this title to 2005 HC4 and 2006 HY51.
  • Defining Terms:
    • Radar – a device that sends out radio waves and picks them up again after the waves strike another object and bounce back
    • Albedo – measurement of the amount of light reflected from the surface of a celestial object
    • Apollo Asteroids –  group of near-Earth asteroids named after 1862 Apollo
    • Arietids – strong meteor shower that occurs most intensely in daylight
    • Perihelion – point in the orbit of a planet, asteroid or comet that is nearest to the Sun

Orbit And Rotation

  • Icarus is considered a relatively fast rotator, having a rotational period of 2.2726 hours. This is near the boundary where non-solid rubble piles fly apart.
  • This asteroid orbits our Sun at a distance of 0.2 to 2.0 AU, once every one year and one month, or 409 days. The orbit is extremely eccentric at 0.83 and with an inclination of 23 degrees with respect to the ecliptic.
  • Its closest approach is nearer than that of Mercury, in regards to the Sun, that is why it is called a Mercury-crossing asteroid, while its farthest exceeds even the orbit of Mars. It is also a Venus and Mars-crosser.
  • From the years 1949 to 1983, it was considered the closest asteroid that passed near the Sun.
  • Icarus makes its closest approach to us in June at intervals of 9, 19, or 28 years.

Other Characteristics

  • Icarus varies in the brightness of 0.22 magnitude while its absolute magnitude has been estimated to be at 16.96.
  • Icarus has an eccentric orbit of 0.83 and an inclination of 23 degrees to the ecliptic. The surface albedo of Icarus has been expected  to   be   at  around 0.14 and 0.51.
  • Its size has been calculated to be 0.87 mi / 1.4 km in diameter.
  • NASA JPL has classified Icarus as a “Potentially Hazardous Asteroid” due to its predicted close passes with Earth.

Close Approaches

  • The closest point of this asteroid to Earth is estimated to be at 0.0352 AU, which is the equivalent of 13.7 lunar distances or 3.274.626 mi / 5.270.000 km.
  • On 14 June 1968, it came as close as 0.042482 AU. During this approach, Icarus became the first minor planet to be observed using radar, with measurements obtained at the Haystack Observatory and the Goldstone Tracking Station.
  • Its most recent closest approach to us occurred in June 16, 2015 at 0.05383 AU or 22 lunar distances.
  • Before this event, the nearest approach happened in June 11 1996 at 0.10119 AU (15,138,000 km), around 40 lunar distances (or almost 40 times as far as the Moon).
  • The next notably close approach will be on 13 June 2043, at 0.0586 AU (8,770,000 km) from Earth. On June 14, 2090, the asteroid will approach marginally closer, with a close approach distance of about 17 lunar distances (4 million mi, or 6.5 million km).

Future Plans

  • Icarus is subject to many studies that can further our understanding of general relativity, solar oblateness, and Yarkovsky drift. Currently, it has been noted that the perihelion precession caused by general relativity is 10.05 arcseconds per Julian century.
  • In 1967 a student designed a contingency plan named Project Icarus as a counteraction if the asteroid would collide with Earth. Many were involved in this project, and the idea was mainly to deflect or destroy the asteroid by the use of six Saturn V rockets launched at different intervals.
  • Like many other heavenly objects, Icarus is continuously monitored, and anyone on the Internet can view its position in the sky. This peculiar asteroid will remain of great interest to us for an extended period; it is, after all, the first to be observed by radar, forever marking its name in the field of astronomy.
  • The Project Icarus plan was used as the basis and inspiration for the SCI-FI movie “Meteor” and in other similar works of art.