Huge asteroid to buzz Earth in November
On November 8 and 9, the quarter-mile-wide asteroid 2005 YU55 will zoom past the Earth, coming within about 200,000 miles, a distance closer than our moon.
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But those pictures had a resolution of just 25 feet (7.5 meters) per pixel. The November close pass should provide some sharper images.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Asteroids
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"When 2005 YU55 returns this fall, we intend to image it at 4-meter resolution [13 feet] with our recently upgraded equipment at the Deep Space Network at Goldstone, California," said JPL radar astronomer Lance Benner. "Plus, the asteroid will be seven times closer. We're expecting some very detailed radar images."
A radar astronomy opportunity
Radar astronomy employs the world's biggest dish-shaped antennas. The antennas direct microwave signals at celestial targets that can be as far away as the moons of Saturn.
These signals bounce off the target, and the resulting "echo" helps researchers create radar images. These images can then be used to reconstruct detailed, three-dimensional models of the object.
With 4-meter-per-pixel resolution, the new views of 2005 YU55 should be pretty sharp, perhaps even showing boulders and craters, researchers said.
"We're talking about getting down to the kind of surface detail you dream of when you have a spacecraft fly by one of these targets," Benner said.
The data collected from Arecibo, Goldstone and ground-based optical and infrared telescopes also should help detail the mineral composition of the asteroid, researchers said.
"This is a C-type asteroid, and those are thought to be representative of the primordial materials from which our solar system was formed," Wilson said. "This flyby will be an excellent opportunity to test how we study, document and quantify which asteroids would be most appropriate for a future human mission."
The capabilities of the Goldstone antenna, in California's Mojave Desert, and of Arecibo are complementary. The Arecibo radar is about 20 times more sensitive and can detect asteroids about twice as far away. But its main dish is stationary, so it can see only about a third of the sky. Goldstone is fully steerable and can see about 80 percent of the accessible sky, so it can track objects for longer periods and can image asteroids at finer spatial resolution, researchers said.
Researchers are eager to train the instruments of both facilities on 2005 YU55 in November.
"So stay tuned," Yeomans said. "This is going to be fun."