Scientists ready to study Earth-buzzing asteroid

Imagine looking up into the sky and seeing a giant asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier. Scary, eh? But don’t worry, because although scientists predict the fly-by will happen this fall, they aren’t concerned about a possible collision.

The asteroid – a 1,300 foot wide giant space rock – is expected to come within 201,700 miles of the Earth on November 8th. As one would expect, excited astronomers plan to use the rare occurrence to learn more about space rocks.

“While near-Earth objects of this size have flown within a lunar distance in the past, we did not have the foreknowledge and technology to take advantage of the opportunity,” said Barbara Wilson, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“When it flies past, it should be a great opportunity for science instruments on the ground to get a good look… [Remember], this is a C-type asteroid, and those are thought to be representative of the primordial materials from which our solar system was formed… [So] 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.”

Still, scientists emphasize that the asteroid does not threaten Earth, at least, not in the short-to-medium term.

“YU55 poses no threat of an Earth collision over, at the very least, the next 100 years,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL.

“During its closest approach, its gravitational effect on the Earth will be so minuscule as to be immeasurable. It will not affect the tides or anything else.”

Scientists previously captured images of YU55 from the National Science Foundation Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico when it came within 1.5 million miles of Earth in 2010. Since the asteroid was still rather far away, the images generated were only had a resolution of 25 feet per pixel.

This time around, scientists hope to capture images at around 13 foot resolution with its recently upgraded equipment at the Deep Space Network at Goldstone.

“Plus, the asteroid will be seven times closer. We’re expecting some very detailed radar images,” add JPL radar astronomer Lance Benner.