Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Huge Peanut-Shaped Asteroid Buzzes Earth in NASA - Video

A large asteroid shaped like a cosmic peanut zipped safely by Earth this month, and a new NASA video retells the entire space rock encounter as it happened using impressive radar images.

Scientists using NASA's Deep Space Network Goldstone antenna in California tracked the near-Earth asteroid 2006 DP14 using radar imaging as the space rock passed within 2.6 million miles (4.2 million kilometers) of our planet on Feb. 12.

The new radar images show that 2006 DP14 is about 1,300 feet long (400 meters) and 660 feet wide (200 m).

NASA video of asteroid 2006 DP14's Earth flyby with the Goldstone radar images is shown above.

The asteroid is known as a "contact binary" because the two halves of its peanut shape seem to be touching and moving through space together.

2006 DP14 made its closest approach to Earth on Feb. 10 when it traveled about 1.5 million miles (2.4 million km) from the planet's surface, NASA officials said.

Scientists then observed the asteroid on Feb. 12 from 12:03 a.m. EST to 2:27 a.m. EST (0503 GMT to 0727 GMT).

"Radar is a powerful technique for studying an asteroid's size, shape, rotation state, surface features and surface roughness, and for improving the calculation of asteroid orbits," NASA representatives wrote in a statement.

"Radar measurements of asteroid distances and velocities often enable computation of asteroid orbits much further into the future than if radar observations weren't available."

Earlier studies have shown that about 10 percent of near-Earth asteroids larger than 650 feet (200 m) have contact binary shapes, NASA officials said.

Comets and asteroids are considered near-Earth objects (NEOs) of they fly within about 28 million miles (45 million km) of Earth's orbital distance, NASA officials have said.

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