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Space rock winks as it passes by

Asteroid 2011 GP59

Asteroid 2011 GP59 as imaged on the night of April 11, 2011 by amateur astronomer Nick James of Chelmsford, Essex, England. At the time, the asteroid was approximately 3,356,000 kilometres distant.

VIDEO IMAGING OF NEWLY DISCOVERED asteroid 2011 GP59 shows it appearing to blink on and off about once every four minutes.

2011 GP59 was discovered the night of April 8/9 by astronomers with the Observatorio Astronomico de Mallorca in Andalusia, Spain.

At the time, the asteroid was approximately 3,356,000 kilometres away. Since then, the space rock has become something of a darling of the amateur astronomy community, with many videos available.

Amateur astronomers around the world captured video of the interesting object, such as this one:

“Usually, when we see an asteroid strobe on and off like that, it means that the body is elongated and we are viewing it broadside along its long axis first, and then on its narrow end as it rotates,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“GP59 is approximately 50 metres long, and we think its period of rotation is about seven-and-a-half minutes. This makes the object’s brightness change every four minutes or so.”

GP59 made its closest approach to Earth on April 15 at a distance just beyond the Moon’s orbit—about 533,000 kilometres.

“Although newly discovered, the near-term orbital location of asteroid 2011 GP59 can be accurately plotted,” said Yeomans. “There is no possibility of the small space rock entering Earth’s atmosphere during this pass or for the foreseeable future.”

NASA detects, tracks and characterises asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground- and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called “Spaceguard,” discovers these objects, characterises a subset of them, and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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