High Desert Plays Major Role In Studying Near Earth Asteroid

Photo Courtesy Of NASA

By Nikki Garrett Metzger

(Victor Valley)– – The astronomy world was all abuzz this afternoon as a very large asteroid passed within 215,000 miles of earth today.  That’s just inside the moon’s orbit; the average distance between Earth and the moon is 239,000 miles.

Asteroid 2005 YU55 made its near earth pass at 3:28 p.m. and had telescopes trained on it from all over.  Most notably the radio telescope at Goldstone in the Mojave desert, near Fort Irwin, which is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network. Scientists there have tracked the quarter-mile-wide asteroid since last week as it approached from the direction of the sun at 29,000 mph.

David Meyer, Astronomy Professor at Victor Valley College and President of the High Desert Astronomical Society explained why scientists are excited about this event, “This asteroid is kind of big, bigger than most that pass by us. There have been some that have passed closer, but most of those are really small, in the range of 10 meters or less. This one’s 400 meters, as big as a battleship or an aircraft carrier, or a little bigger.”

Astronomers report that the make-up of this asteroid is not rock like most of them. The 2005 YU55 asteroid is said to contain carbon-based materials and may even contain water.

Meyer said this asteroid poses no threat to earth on this pass.  However, on its next pass in 2075 things could change. “An object like this, even though we track it this time pretty accurately and we know pretty much where it’s going and when its coming back, but we can’t tell for sure exactly the precise orbit because of the influences of the sun and other objects that may influence its track. The predictions of orbit are not 100% accurate over long periods of time.”

Meyer said that Goldstone and NASA are using radar to get their images, tracking the asteroid as it goes by. “They can get fairly detailed radar images of the asteroid and they’ll be able to see how big it is precisely.”

“It is big enough to actually be seen in a small telescope, I think it is an 11 magnitude, but it passed its closet point this afternoon. One of our HiDAS members is going to try to find it tonight,” said Meyer.

Find more information on NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program at http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov

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