While you were going about your daily business, maybe sitting in traffic or making dinner, a giant asteroid whizzed by your head, and you narrowly escaped the cold bite of death.
Ok, when I say “whizzed by your head” I mean about 202,000 miles away and when I say “narrowly escaped death” I mean that NASA scientists knew that it would miss us all along. But hey, a huge space rock flew past Earth last night? Pretty awesome, right?
And it’s even cooler when you discover just how close 202,000 miles really is in the grand scheme of things. For instance, the average distance between the Earth and the Moon is 239,000. So this asteroid, tagged as the size of an aircraft carrier, came between us and the Moon. It passed by Earth at its closest point around 6:30 EST.
That’s the closest that an asteroid that large has come to Earth in 35 years.
The particular asteroid, 2005 YU55, is in an orbit that regularly brings it near Earth, as well as Venus and Mars. But it hasn’t been this close in at least 200 years.
This time, NASA scientists were able to bounce radar off the asteroid to give us an image equivalent to a “celestial sonogram.”
During tracking, scientists will use the Goldstone and Arecibo antennas to bounce radio waves off the space rock. Radar echoes returned from 2005 YU55 will be collected and analyzed. NASA scientists hope to obtain images of the asteroid from Goldstone as fine as about 7 feet (2 meters) per pixel. This should reveal a wealth of detail about the asteroid’s surface features, shape, dimensions and other physical properties
They were able to capture this photo on Monday, and more detailed images are likely to emerge:
The image shows a fairly spherical asteroid – a shape that not all asteroids takes. For instance, the 1999 JMB asteroid captured in 1999 was an asymmetrical, oddly shaped object.
Here’s a visual representation of how close YU55 came on Tuesday, courtesy of NASA:
So this asteroid didn’t send us humans the way of the dinosaurs. It is a reminder, however, that there’s a ton of stuff floating around out there, any and all of which could possibly smack into our sweet little home.
The 2005 YU55 will pass close to Earth again in 2028.[Image Courtesy IMDB]