Goldstone image of earth-crossing asteroid 2005 YU55
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


We are thankful for many things. Sometimes small things, like unexpected holiday guests who don't overstay their welcome. Sometimes larger things, like dangerous travelers from deep space that pass by, provide some interesting information, then move on without causing violent destruction. A prime example was the silent passage of asteroid 2005 YU55, a roughly spherical space rock with a diameter of 400 meters (bigger than four football fields laid end-to-end). On November 8, 2011, this asteroid passed within the orbit of the moon, an exciting near-miss and a good opportunity for astronomers to obtain an up-close view of a real, live asteroid. The image above of 2005 YU55 was obtained by NASA's Goldstone radar, and enabled scientists to detect features as small as about 25 feet on the surface. NASA's versatile Swift observatory also caught the fly-by of 2005 YU55 as well, using its UV and Optical Telescope. We can all be grateful that earth's encounter with 2005 YU55 was uneventful this time, since the asteroid would have had the destructive power of a nuclear bomb if it hit earth. Not to worry though - a collision with 2005 YU55 won't happen for at least another 100 years.
Published: November 21, 2011

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Sunday, 27-Nov-2011 19:06:38 EST