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NASA Earth Science

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

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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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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