Space Rock – The movie

SCIENTISTS WORKING WITH the 70-metre-wide Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, have generated a short movie clip of asteroid 2005 YU55. The images used to generate the movie are the highest-resolution ever generated by radar of a near-Earth object.

Each of the six frames required 20 minutes of data collection by the Goldstone radar. At the time, 2005 YU55 was approximately 1.38 million kilometres away from Earth. Resolution is 4 metres per pixel.

“By animating a sequence of radar images, we can see more surface detail than is visible otherwise,” said radar astronomer Lance Benner, the principal investigator for the 2005 YU55 observations, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The animation reveals a number of puzzling structures on the surface that we don’t yet understand. To date, we’ve seen less than one half of the surface, so we expect more surprises.”

No effect on Earth

The trajectory of asteroid 2005 YU55 is well understood. At the point of closest approach it was no closer than (324,600 kilometres, as measured from the centre of Earth.

The gravitational influence of the asteroid will have had no detectable effect on anything here on Earth, including our planet’s tides or tectonic plates.

Although 2005 YU55 is in an orbit that regularly brings it to the vicinity of Earth (and Venus and Mars), the 2011 encounter with Earth is the closest this space rock has come for at least the last 200 years.

The last time an asteroid as big came as close to Earth was in 1976, although astronomers did not know about the flyby at the time. The next known approach of an asteroid this large will be in 2028.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL-Caltech.

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