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NASA Earth Science

Asteroid Passes Closer To Earth Than the Moon on Nov 8 169

Posted by samzenpus
from the spitting-distance dept.
First time accepted submitter TheNextCorner writes "NASA scientists will be tracking asteroid 2005 YU55 with antennas of the agency's Deep Space Network at Goldstone, Calif., as the space rock safely flies past Earth slightly closer than the moon's orbit on Nov. 8. Scientists are treating the flyby of the 1,300-foot-wide (400-meter) asteroid as a science target of opportunity – allowing instruments on 'spacecraft Earth' to scan it during the close pass. "
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Asteroid Passes Closer To Earth Than the Moon on Nov 8

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  • I'm amazed I haven't seen doomsday theories regarding this yet.
    • How much change do I need to have in my pockets again?
    • Yeah, we would have seen that if Bruce Willis didn't have it covered.
      • by nschubach (922175)

        It's not coming straight for us so there's no drilling required... however, there is an armada of alien ships hiding behind it so we'll need Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum to head to their nearest airbase.

    • The summery is Wrong ! !
      According to TFA . . .
      >> The trajectory of asteroid 2005 YU55 is well understood. At the point of closest approach,
      >> it will be no closer than 201,700 miles (324,600 kilometers)
      >> or 0.85 the distance from the moon to Earth.

      so the asteroid will be just inside the orbit of the moon . . .
      • It's not wrong, it's just ambiguous. The summary means "asteroid passes closer to Earth than the Moon is to the Earth", not "asteroid passes closer to the Earth than it will be to the moon".
        • by optimism (2183618)

          Ambiguity aside, both of those interpretations might be true.

          TFA includes a nifty animated GIF of the asteroid's path...but only in 2 dimensions. Space is 3-dimensional. You would have to see the 3D trajectory to tell whether the asteroid passes closer to the earth, or to the moon.

    • by formfeed (703859)
      Just make sure you have your towel ready.
    • by HTH NE1 (675604)

      I'm amazed I haven't seen doomsday theories regarding this yet.

      The year, 1994. From out of space, comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction. Man's civilization is cast in ruin.

      Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn. A strange new world rises from the old. A world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery.

      But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice. With his companions, Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword, against the forces of evil. He is Thundarr, the

  • by Anonymous Coward

    WERE DOOMED

  • What we should do is send Bruce Willis with a master plan to slow it down, and get ourselves a new satellite.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      That would be great, put it into orbit and use it as a space station/mining facility.. good times

      • by Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday November 02, 2011 @09:25PM (#37928844)

        The thing is a little bigger than an aircraft carrier (the diameter is about the same as a carrier's length), so I don't know how useful it'd be for a space station, but it would be very interesting to know what its composition is; if it's useful minerals, then it could be extremely valuable. It's really rather pathetic that we haven't had enough foresight to invest in building up our space program so that we have the capability of trapping a small asteroid like this that's so convenient, so that we can mine it for resources. Unlike leveling mountains and digging giant pit mines, you'll never have any environmentalists complaining about off-planet asteroid mining, and the ores in asteroids have potentially much higher yield than those found in the earth's crust.

        • But wouldn't the cost of building the equipment to capture one of these puppies be much higher than what the materials bring up? I cannot even imagine how you would be able to capture one asteroid traveling a couple thousand M/hr in space.
          • by Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday November 02, 2011 @09:37PM (#37928932)

            First, you wouldn't try to capture it as it's whizzing by the Earth with a giant delta-V, you'd strap a rocket to it (or something) and slowly change its trajectory so that it eventually became "parked" in a location convenient to the earth, perhaps in a Lagrangian point, with zero delta-V. This would obviously take some time; one of those new ion engines, working over the course of a few years, might do the trick; it wouldn't be an overnight operation.

            Secondly, no, building the equipment would be cheap if you already had manufacturing facilities in space (or someplace low-gravity, like the moon), and already had designs in place and had already built such equipment before. Getting to that point is obviously expensive, but obviously you wouldn't build a whole space program to capture one asteroid and mine it, and then quit. (Well, if you're America, you might....) You'd do this with lots of asteroids, and pretty soon you've easily repaid your investment. It's like building a factory: you don't spend $3 billion to make a semiconductor fab and then just build one chip, you build many millions of them, and eventually pay back your investment.

            • by ganjadude (952775)
              i think you woiuld be better offcatching it either before it gets to us, or as it does. Than you work on sending it past the sun, slowing it down and shifting its trajectory as it comes back towards earth
              • by Rolgar (556636)

                Catching it as it approaches as you recommend would still be fairly difficult, because in changing the speed to park it in orbit, you will have to change it's speed enough that it probably won't end up near earth.

                If it's slower than earth, you would have to send the tug out, and start picking up speed so earth will catch up to it. If it's faster than us, you will have to slow it down as you describe, but our current engines aren't strong enough to do this in one pass. The ion engine Grishnakh mentions is mu

                • by ganjadude (952775)
                  thanks for that, i admit i am behind the times in modern techniques, i didnt realize we have come that far yet.
        • Of course if we miscalculated the capture orbit and accidentally dropped the freaking thing on ourselves that would also solve the environmentalist problem. They would be annihilated along with the rest of us. Better still. There would be no environment left for anyone to fret over and fight about.
          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            Don't be ridiculous; in such a situation there'd be very little damage. Remember, the whole idea of capturing an asteroid relies on making adjustments to its trajectory far in advance of a fly-by with earth. By the time it's anywhere near the earth, after using ion rockets to change its course, or using some kind of slingshot effect like the other poster mentioned, the asteroid's delta-V with earth would be tiny. An asteroid's impact energy is a product of its mass and velocity (or rather its difference

            • Thanks so much for the physics lesson. Really. I was wondering how much damage that asteroid would really do. And it would have been more seemly to close my comment with a question to that effect.

              However, as you no doubt have by now already perhaps gleaned, my original comment was meant to be a sort of joke. Therefore, in my own defense, let me explain the comic processes involved.

              A) Irony. There is intrinsic irony in mining an asteroid in order to spare the environment, but, in the process, actually des

              • by spidercoz (947220)
                You need to go back to comedy school. It's only a joke if A: people can "get it" without lengthy explanation, and B: it's actually funny.
        • About the size of an aircraft carrier seems perfect as counterweight to a space elevator.
          To bad we're years to late to get it to the correct orientation and velocity. To "capture" an asteroid you need to nudge it to the right place.
    • by k6mfw (1182893)

      I knew someone added the Bruce Willis tagline. There was two asteroid impact movies at that time, the one with Bruce Willis and the other (forgotten?). Kind of like in 1964 there was two movies on nuclear attack by rouge aircraft, Dr. Strangelove and (forgotten?). Movies that were successful didn't try to be serious and dramatic, they delibritely went over-the-top with character actors.

      Those forgotten movies were Deep Impact and Failsafe.

      • I remember Deep Impact. Forget about it, man; Robert Duvall can't pull this one off. It's Bruce or we lose the damn thing!
    • by xclr8r (658786)
      Everyone knows what happens when an Asteroid gets close to the moon and earth.

      www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhAobPugvsk
    • by xclr8r (658786)
      9/10ths of the moons orbit according to this informative video from Jet Propulsion Labs [nasa.gov]
  • Is the distance from the asteroid to the earth going to be less than the distance from the earth to the moon? Is the distance from the asteroid to the moon going to be greater than the distance from the earth to the asteroid?
  • ...to land on a passing asteroid. That is, if we still had a space program able to carry a person to it. Heck, I'd even settle for a quick-launch of an instrument/rover/lander to take some video and transmit it to Earth in near real-time.

    You might even be able to use it as a one-way intra-solar-system ferry if the asteroid was going close to the same direction you wanted the probe to go.
    • by Dan East (318230)

      The difference in velocity between the asteroid and earth could be enormous. Just because it's coming close doesn't mean it's practical to land on it or orbit it. However we could always smash something into it then analyze the ejecta from earth.

      • by Columcille (88542)
        "However we could always smash something into it then analyze the ejecta from earth."

        That's crazy. We would never do something like that.
      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        Let's see, 6 days from now to launch and get it out to nearly the Moon's orbit. Not going to happen. But it would be interesting if we could.

      • by Teancum (67324) <{ten.orezten} {ta} {gninroh_trebor}> on Wednesday November 02, 2011 @09:02PM (#37928672) Homepage Journal

        The issue here is the relative speed of the asteroid. It is very likely that it is moving from much further out in the Solar System, thus it will be moving a bit faster than the Earth/Moon.

        None the less, this distance to the Earth will be plenty to significantly change the orbital characteristics of this asteroid as it goes around the Sun (due to the gravity of the Earth).

        In terms of landing on an asteroid like this, there have been several proposals made to do just that, and there are several other candidate asteroids that will be passing just as close if not even closer over the next decade or so. Some of those missions even have been suggested to be manned missions to the asteroid, which could get quite interesting. One of the mission profiles is to head out to meet the asteroid about a month before it comes close to the Earth, and then do a "sample return" (manned or unmanned) using the Earth's atmosphere as an aerobrake. Obviously you need a much beefier heat shield than for ordinary LEO reentry, but it isn't as bad as it would seem and certainly is the realm of current aeronautical technology to accomplish. The SpaceX Dragon could easily cope with that kind of entry profile, to give an example.

        The issue with this particular one is simply timing and getting something sent up before it passes. This particular asteroid is unlikely to get that kind of treatment mainly because it is a much more recent discovery (discovered in 2005 based on its designation), and it hasn't even received an asteroid number yet. This one might actually get a name... something that is missing for most new asteroid discoveries.

        • You seem to know the subject:

          http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/541440main_2005_YU55_approach.gif [nasa.gov]

          Why is it perpendicular to Earth's orbit in that diagram?

          Does not look this way in

          http://www.vorchester.com/vnews/images/2005YU55Orbit.jpg [vorchester.com]

          • by Teancum (67324)

            Both of those diagrams can be correct. Attempting to squish a 3-dimensional reality into two dimensions can lose all sorts of information. As a comparison, try to make a wire frame model of a cube and then rotate that cube around looking at the shadow being cast upon a flat surface. Depending on how it is rotated, the shadow can be a square, a rectangle with a line through the middle at some arbitrary location, a squished hexagon with triangles, or other harder shapes to describe.

            Elliptical orbits with o

            • by mapkinase (958129)

              I know about the generalities you wrote.

              My impression was that pretty much everything in Solar system is in one plane [wikipedia.org], with exceptions like newer objects. For example, Earth has inclination of 1.57 to that plane and 2005 YU550 is 0.51351 relative to Earth.

              First picture I assume is a perpendicular look at that plane (otherwise it does not make sense) and second picture is a little slanted (45 degrees). At that assumption I do not see how it is possible to get the first picture.

              This video [youtube.com] shows how asteroid w

    • To test attaching a rocket to it to send it on another course. It seems like a low cost way to test some of the anti-asteroid plans.

    • by z0idberg (888892)

      You might even be able to use it as a one-way intra-solar-system ferry if the asteroid was going close to the same direction you wanted the probe to go.

      If you get your probe up to the same velocity as the asteroid (as you would do to land on it) then you don't really need to use it as a ferry do you?

    • Problem: one way missions are not ideal for humans.

  • Perhaps it is too small, but what I do not see in the animation is a new deflection in the orbit with this close fly-by to the earth and moon. What will the new orbit be after the flyby?

    • Too small to see.

    • @too small..

      With the speed of about 12000 km/h and size of 400 meters it would be scary if it landed no matter where (earth/ocean), in comparison the dreaded Apophis asteroid is smaller, only ~300 meters in size.
  • I mean, it will put me in the mood for the big NASA 'oops' event. :)

    Melancholia [imdb.com] (new window)

  • If they call comets that are 9 million miles away near earth objects what in god name do they call this?? lol i beat there heads are gong to explode from excitement :]
  • I'll be impressed when ... an asteroid passes closer than the space station to the earth.
  • (324,600 kilometers) or 0.85 the distance from the moon to Earth

    Maybe I just re-read Lucifer's Hammer too many times, but I'm wondering what the margin of error is on this calculation?

    If they're off by even 20% I can imagine some not good things happening.
    • I'm wondering what the margin of error is on this calculation?

      http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/neo_ca?type=NEO&hmax=all&sort=date&sdir=ASC&tlim=recent_future&dmax=5LD&max_rows=0&action=Display+Table&show=1 [nasa.gov]

      The N-sigma for 2005 YU55 is 31,700, which means that the maximum error is 31,700 times smaller than the distance between the Earth and the object at its nearest point or an error so small as to be insignificant.

    • It seems you have a misconsception regarding errors.

      Take a sheet of pape, make a random dot in the left side of it, now make a random dot in the right side of it.

      Draw a small (fingernail big) circle around each dot.

      Now connect the left circles upper edge with the right circles lower edge and vice versa with a straight line. The two lines will cross in between of the circles and will fan out behind the circles.

      The bigger the circles are the bigger the fan out is. The fan out describes the uncertainess of the

  • something else (Score:5, Interesting)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday November 02, 2011 @09:48PM (#37929030) Journal

    According to TFA, the asteroid is mostly black and "aircraft carrier sized". The first thing that flashed into my mind was that it would be very interesting if radar images during the flyby revealed it was in fact a very, Very VERY old spacecraft.

    • According to TFA, the asteroid is mostly black and "aircraft carrier sized". The first thing that flashed into my mind was that it would be very interesting if radar images during the flyby revealed it was in fact a very, Very VERY old spacecraft.

      How about a balttleship instead?

      http://www.starblazers.com/images/jun09/images/Starlogpages.PDF [starblazers.com]

      DO NOT. REPEAT DO NOT watch this if you loved it as a child. The poor excuse for what passed as science and science fiction here made me think what a stupid ignorant child I was. Huge nostalgic letdown. By comparison Star Trek Original Series is realistic - that is how far fetched and bad the science is.

      • by Jiro (131519)

        The original version of Star Blazers was a national institution in Japan and is still remembered to this day. They just did an animated movie ( http://anbudom.net/2010/11/03/space-battleship-yamato-revival/ [anbudom.net] ), and even a live action movie.

        True, it did have bad science (you can't see the Comet Empire from light years away, since the light would take years to get to you), but it was a breakthrough at the time.

        • by syousef (465911)

          Yes and an English version is planned. I only watched the English Starblazers as a kid and went back to watch it 20 years later as an adult. As I said in my earlier post, big big mistake. Childhood memories ruined.

    • "The Final Countdown" [wikipedia.org] just popped into my head. Thanks. :)

    • by definate (876684)

      We have never put anything that is "aircraft carrier sized" up there. So... you'd be saying that it's an alien spacecraft.

      Just so we're clear.

    • Your post made me think of Rendezvous with Rama, which was quite unsatisfying.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        Clarke wrote a very early short story, about a space station worker outside when he wasn't supposed to be (on his way to a sexual encounter in an airlock) when his proximity alarm went off. He got a glimpse of an asteroid flashing by that was as large as an airliner, and saw that it was a very old alien spaceship that had collided with something and was dead in space. The conundrum was, here he had made the most vital discovery of the century and because he was not authorized to be where he was, he couldn

    • According to TFA, the asteroid is mostly black and "aircraft carrier sized". The first thing that flashed into my mind was that it would be very interesting if radar images during the flyby revealed it was in fact a very, Very VERY old spacecraft.

      from a galaxy far away... my guess it is a Tantive IV, size fits. A bit.

      • by sempir (1916194)

        One wonders if it may just be all the lost airline luggage lost over the years! Could embarrass the shit out of a lot of airlines!

    • The first thing that flashed into my mind was that it would be very interesting if radar images during the flyby revealed it was in fact a very, Very VERY old spacecraft.

      Think horses, not zebras.

      But, I have to admit, my first thought was, "I wonder if the Chinese are going to put a spacecraft on it," so I can't claim to be immune to flights of fancy.

    • According to TFA, the asteroid is mostly black and "aircraft carrier sized". The first thing that flashed into my mind was that it would be very interesting if radar images during the flyby revealed it was in fact a very, Very VERY old spacecraft.

      My first thought was it might have weird black controls, labelled in black on a black background, each with a small black light which lights up black to let you know you've done something.

  • Scale (Score:3, Interesting)

    by optimism (2183618) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @08:28AM (#37932616)

    It's a shame that NASA posts a lame size comparison to a warship, instead of educating people with the much larger scale of this event. To wit:

    1) Earth is a basketball

    2) Luna is a baseball, orbiting about 30 feet (9m) away from the basketball

    3) Asteroid 2005YU55 is a red blood cell (about 1/10 the diameter of a human hair), passing about 25 feet away from the basketball

    The truly amazing thing is that we can see surface details on that red blood cell from 25 feet away.

  • I did a search for "asteroid mining" at http://www.sti.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov] and below are couple documents. I remember seeing in a 1979 STAR abstract journal documents titled "asteriod retrieval" but when I searched for that sti site I saw a lot of non-pertaining listings. Probably a bit too late to capture this month's flyby unless the USAF has a secret spacecraft ready to fly (yeah the old plot used in movies since the 1969 "Marooned").

    Extraterrestrial materials processing and construction
    Online Source: Click to

    • Given that this asteroid masses 50 million tons or so, its too *early* to capture this asteroid. In any case it has a very different orbit, so the velocity required is higher than other targets. In space, physically close is not as important as velocity required.

      Object 2000 UG11 is a better candidate, but even that is too massive (10 million tons). So an early mission will more likely scrape some of the loose material off the surface, put it in a big container, and haul that back. With a high efficiency

      • by Arlet (29997)

        Suppose you manage to carve a nice big chunk of ore from an asteroid, how do you safely land it on earth ?

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