Fast-rotating asteroid winks for astronomer's camera

Apr 15, 2011 By DC Agle
Asteroid 2011 GP59 as imaged on the night of April 11, 2011 by amateur astronomer Nick James of Chelmsford, Essex, England. At the time, the asteroid was approximately 3,356,000 kilometers (2,081,000 mile) distant. Credit: Nick James

(PhysOrg.com) -- Video imaging of newly discovered asteroid 2011 GP59 shows the object appearing to blink on and off about once every four minutes.

Amateur astronomers, including Nick James of Chelmsford, Essex, England, have captured video of the interesting object. James generated this video of GP59 on the night of Monday, April 11. The video, captured with an 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, is a compilation of 137 individual frames, each requiring 30 seconds of exposure. At the time, the asteroid was approximately 3,356,000 kilometers (2,081,000 mile) distant. Since then, the has become something of a darling of the amateur astronomy community, with many videos available.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

"Usually, when we see an asteroid strobe on and off like that, it means that the body is elongated and we are viewing it broadside along its long axis first, and then on its narrow end as it rotates ," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "GP59 is approximately 50 meters [240 feet] long, and we think its period of rotation is about seven-and-a-half minutes. This makes the object's brightness change every four minutes or so."

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

2011 GP59 was discovered the night of April 8/9 by astronomers with the Observatorio Astronomico de Mallorca in Andalusia, Spain. It will make its closest approach to Earth on April 15 at 19:09 UTC (12:09 p.m. PDT) at a distance just beyond the moon's orbit - about 533,000 kilometers (331,000 miles).

"Although newly discovered, the near-term orbital location of 2011 GP59 can be accurately plotted," said Yeomans. "There is no possibility of the small space rock entering Earth's atmosphere during this pass or for the foreseeable future."

detects, tracks and characterizes asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground- and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them, and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

Explore further: Mysteries of space dust revealed

Related Stories

Asteroid to Make Rare Close Flyby of Earth

Jan 24, 2008

Scientists are monitoring the orbit of asteroid 2007 TU24. The asteroid, believed to be between 150 meters (500 feet) and 610 meters (2,000 feet) in size, is expected to fly past Earth on Jan. 29, with its ...

Small asteroid to pass within Earth-Moon system Tuesday

Oct 11, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A small asteroid will fly past Earth early Tuesday within the Earth-moon system. The asteroid, 2010 TD54, will have its closest approach to Earth's surface at an altitude of about 45,000 kilometers ...

Small Near-Earth Object Probably a Rocket Part

May 28, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists at NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have determined that a small object that safely passed Earth on May 21 is more ...

Radar Clicks Asteroid's Pic

Apr 30, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Near-Earth asteroid 2005 YU55 was "imaged" by the Arecibo Radar Telescope in Puerto Rico on April 19. Data collected during Arecibo's observation of 2005 YU55 allowed the Near-Earth Object ...

Wisconsin Fireball Caught On Tape

Apr 16, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A rooftop webcam at the University of Wisconsin-Madison captured the final seconds of a fireball's Wednesday, April 14 descent into the atmosphere. A fireball is a meteor, or "shooting star," ...

Recommended for you

Mysteries of space dust revealed

Aug 29, 2014

The first analysis of space dust collected by a special collector onboard NASA's Stardust mission and sent back to Earth for study in 2006 suggests the tiny specks open a door to studying the origins of the ...

A guide to the 2014 Neptune opposition season

Aug 29, 2014

Never seen Neptune? Now is a good time to try, as the outermost ice giant world reaches opposition this weekend at 14:00 Universal Time (UT) or 10:00 AM EDT on Friday, August 29th. This means that the distant ...

Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative: A citizen forum

Aug 28, 2014

In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially ...

Image: Rosetta's comet looms

Aug 28, 2014

Wow! Rosetta is getting ever-closer to its target comet by the day. This navigation camera shot from Aug. 23 shows that the spacecraft is so close to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that it's difficult to ...

User comments : 0