Sci-Tech

Asteroid YU55: coming right at ya!

By Theresa Mallinson 8 November 2011

Okay, well YU55 isn't actually going to hit us on Tuesday night, not quite. But it'll pass within 319,000km of the Earth, giving astronomers a rare opportunity to study it “up close”. By THERESA MALLINSON.

Asteroid 2005 YU55, to call the astral body by its full (and wholly unimaginative) name, is 400 metres wide and was discovered only in, yup, you guessed it, 2005. Just in time, one might add, as only six years later, on 8 November 2011, it will pass within 319,000km of the Earth. That may seem far away, but it’s about 10% closer to us than the Moon usually gets.

However, there’s no fear of Armageddon striking, as astronomers have calculated that the asteroid has only a one in ten million chance of hitting our planet. What YU55’s flyby visit will do, is allow scientists to study it, up close and personal. Wired quoted Nasa scientist Lance Benner as saying it will be the “closest approach by an asteroid, that large, that we’ve known about in advance”.

“Because this (asteroid) is coming in so close, we’ll be able to get more radar observations, which will give us a detailed surface map, and be able to get more of a chemical signature on the minerals it’s made up from,” Kevin Yates, from the Near Earth Objects Information Centre in Leicester, told the Guardian.

But amateur stargazers can have their fun too – as long as they have access to at six-inch telescope. The asteroid is due to pass by at 10.28pm (South African time) on Tuesday. The next close brush our planet will have with an asteroid will be in 2028, when 2001 WN5 will pass by at a distance of 248,000km. DM



Read more:

  • A 400-metre-wide asteroid will graze past Earth, and here’s how to see it, in Wired;
  • Asteroid YU55 on course for close encounter with Earth, in the Guardian.
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