Two quick 2010 AL30 updates

By Phil Plait | January 14, 2010 1:02 am

Two quick things about 2010 AL30, the small object that passed the Earth earlier today:

1) I wrote that it looks to be natural and not some booster, but now an ESA scientist says it might be a booster from Venus Express. His argument is a good one, but it’s difficult to prove.

2) Universe Today has a very cool animation of the object as it slid past us, created using 30 still images. It’s fun to watch, if a little dizzying.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy
MORE ABOUT: 2010 AL30

Comments (24)

  1. Anyway… if this object could have been man-made (space-junk) why the stupid panic in the media?

    Back home, the “asteroid hysteria” was a good one-day brake from the infinite anti-vaccine stories on TV (In Romania we have a locally produces AH1N1 vaccine which uses Thiomersal as a preservative… so imagine all the incredible amount of stupidity in the media these days)

  2. If it is a booster, shouldn’t it have a TiO2 spectrum? Last I heard, there weren’t a lot of painted asteroids in this part of the solar system. Unless it is a giant interplanetary garden gnome.

  3. Crap! I missed it! I completely forgot.

  4. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Did anyone – or any space agency – manage to image it as it went by?

    Could (or did?) someone from the International Space Station have photographed it going past them?

    @ 1. danezia :

    Anyway… if this object could have been man-made (space-junk) why the stupid panic in the media?

    Because scare stories sell newspapers why else? :roll:

    Oh that & because its the traditional media practice to overhype & spin & misinform. :-(

    For a good example – albeit satricial, see the “Felicia Day Collides Galaxies” clip posted on the BA blog earlier if you haven’t already :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/10/26/felicia-day-collides-galaxies/

    That at least is funny in a good way rather than just eye-rollingly *facepalm* like this. ;-)

  5. TheMark

    So … are we dead yet? ;)
    And another groaner: “In Soviet Russia, You miss Asteroid!”

  6. Plutonium being from Pluto

    ^ If you don’t know whether you are dead or not, The Mark, then you are! ;-)

    I wrote that it looks to be natural and not some booster, but now an ESA scientist says it might be a booster from Venus Express. His argument is a good one, but it’s difficult to prove.

    Why is it so difficult if I could ask?

    Can’t they calculate the orbit of the booster accurately enough & as (2.) Lab Lemming pointed out shouldn’t the Venus Express booster have an easily distinguishable spectrum different to all or most asteroids?

    Have the Venus Express scientists and engineers said anything about this idea that you know of?

    – StevoR a.k.a. Plutonium being from Pluto

  7. Pi-needles

    Hang on a minute, if the booster has come back to us from a mission to Venus doesn’t that make it the Venus *Return* rather than the Venus Express? ;-)

    Can I buy a return ticket to Venus please? ;-)

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    How about RADAR imaging – like that used by Arecibo to capture images of Castalia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4769_Castalia ), Toutatis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toutatis-4179 ) & a few other asteroids – could & has that been used to reveal the shape and nature of 2010 AL 30?

    If 2010 AL30 does turn out to be the Venus Express booster then does it keeps its asteroid designation “name” or does it get called whatever the serial number of the booster is or Venus Express – or ‘return’ – B or suchlike?

  9. Spectroscope

    Don’t the space probe misson track their boosters afterwards? This seems to have happened a few times now.

    I visited the Venus Express page on Wikipedia and then their home page (at least I think it was: http://www.rssd.esa.int/index.php?project=VENUSEXPRESS&page=index ) which didn’t look like it had been updated in a while & had no mention of this theory.

    Via the ‘Universe Today’ link the BA provided, I visited mission analyst Michael Khan’s blog & from his ‘Close Asteroid Encounter Tomorrow’ page (http://www.scilogs.eu/en/blog/go-for-launch/2010-01-12/close-asteroid-encounter-tomorrow) there’s this:

    There are indications that the object may be rotating quite fast, which also would not be surprising in the case of a spent upper stage. If this is in fact a Fregat, then it is clad in reflective metallized foil for thermal reasons, so its albedo would be a lot higher than that of a natural body. Despite the Fregat’s smaller size, distinctly less than the 10-15 meters tentatively assumed for this body, the reflective material would make it appear bright. I assume that the hypothesis I am putting on the table here will be easy to disprove or to confirm once we have more observations and also some spectroscopy and radar, which hopefully will be the case by tomorrow.

    So hopefully we’ll hear soon if this idea is confirmed or not.

  10. Petrolonfire

    An old booster from Venus Express? Neat. 8)

    Starbucks should have sponsored that mission – then they could have called it the Venus *Expresso* & made a tie in coffee:

    Expresso served extra-hot with an added C02 fizz plus a splash of sulphuric acid! ;-)

    Come to think of it … I’ve drunk worse! ;-)

  11. Hi,

    Today, early in the morning (Portugal, Algarve), about 7.45 a.m., I`ve seen a strange straight line of smoke in the sky, darker than the one made by airplanes, so it couldn`t have been an aeroplane doing it. Also, it continued moving through the skies in a straight line, with a dark line of smoke behind it!
    I am really curious, what a hell was that?

  12. Greg in Austin

    @Clara,

    How do you know it was not a plane? Could the vapor trail have looked darker because of the time of day, angle of the sun, etc? Could it have been an older plane that actually left dark engine exhaust, as opposed to the water vapor trails caused by the pressure differential on the wingtips?

    Could it have been a rocket launch?

    Were you, or anyone else, able to get any photographs or videos? Can you do a Google search for images of contrails, vapor trails, and rocket launches and see if any of those pics look similar to what you saw?

    8)

  13. Clara, here’s a crazy thought: Could it have been a flock of starlings – maybe a few hundred or a few thousand of them? Those things can get huge. I’ve seen enormous spheres of birds from a huge distance, and having a ribbon of those things fly over you, stretching from horizon to horizon, is unnerving. Stragglers could have accounted for the dark line of “smoke”.

  14. Phreeeow. Do a Google image search for “flock of starlings” and you’ll see what I mean!

  15. awesomekip

    http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/mpml/messages?o=1

    Messages on the Minor Planets Mailing List show the object is not the Fregat booster. The object did have a close encounter with Venus in 2006, but at a distance of 0.011 AU, or about 1,645,578 km. Before that, it was last near the Earth in 1929.

  16. Robert Carnegie

    I assume the rocket booster pushed the probe generally towards its encounter with Venus, then disconnected… then the probe would accelerate itself some more, perhaps? So only the little bitty probe was going all the way to Venus. The other stages would be… kind of around. Left behind. That’s how you -do- that. That’s what rocket stages are -for-. But maybe I don’t know so much.

  17. Hi, Harold, and everyone,

    As a matter of fact,after reading your comment and investigating about flocks of starlings images it really wasn`t that! It looked like dark smoke, and after reading all the comments, though I was waiting for some answers, maybe it was just a plane, an old one, with engine problems.
    Thanks anyway!

  18. Spectroscope

    @ 15. awesomekip Says:

    Messages on the Minor Planets Mailing List show the object is not the Fregat booster. The object did have a close encounter with Venus in 2006, but at a distance of 0.011 AU, or about 1,645,578 km. Before that, it was last near the Earth in 1929.

    Pity. Oh well.

    Of course that leaves us with the question – then just where *is* that old Fregat booster from Venus Express now and is there any chance it ‘ll turn up again? ;-)

  19. Sam

    So what does AL30 stand for anyways? Alien life?

    Here’s my issue with this whole thing. NASA calls it a mysterious object right? Then they appear to not even care what it actually was. This thing is tooling around our solar system and no one has a radar image of this thing? Also, what if this was just bait and switch? While we are looking at AL30, something else was entering into our solar system. Could be why NASA shocked the world saying a mysterious object. They had to know that would spark concern on the entire planet. Every telescope was pointed at AL30 instead of pointing where they didn’t want you looking.

    I think this thing is a probe. Seems like the internet went radio silent after it passed by. Can’t find any information on what this thing was or is and where it came from.

  20. Jya Jar Binks Killer

    @ 19. Sam :

    So what does AL30 stand for anyways? Alien life?

    I’m not sure what it does stand for but I’m pretty sure it ain’t that! ;-)

    Here’s my issue with this whole thing. NASA calls it a mysterious object right?

    Er .. no, wrong. NASA wasn’t overly bothered with it and never said such a thing. They just thought it was a meteoroid making an unusual but not dangerous close pass which just possibly might have been an old booster from the Venus Express spaceprobe. That we now know is not the case and its just a rock with an orbit that co-incidentally takes it near Venus around the same time.

    Then they appear to not even care what it actually was.

    Have you read the BA’s threads on it & people’s comments here, dude? Like really? :roll:

    This thing is tooling around our solar system and no one has a radar image of this thing? Also, what if this was just bait and switch? While we are looking at AL30, something else was entering into our solar system.

    Riii-iiight. :roll:

    Because with all the astronomers and all the telescopes around the world we’ll just ignore everything else for the next few days to look solely at this one little rock that happens to be passing a lil” close – NOT!

    Could be why NASA shocked the world saying a mysterious object.

    Umm … dude, that’s NOT what they said – ever. Where did you get that idea from?

    They had to know that would spark concern on the entire planet. Every telescope was pointed at AL30 instead of pointing where they didn’t want you looking.

    Every single telescope? All the time? Suuure. I somehow doubt it very much. :roll:

    I think this thing is a probe. Seems like the internet went radio silent after it passed by. Can’t find any information on what this thing was or is and where it came from.

    Have you tried y’know *looking*? Like even reading the comments & articles & links from here, dude? :roll:

  21. Arrogant dragonbreath slayer

    I agree with the previous poster. Something ain’t right about this mysterious object floating around our solar system and no one seems to care. Seems like other really have no answers but party line stuff. Oh yeah, and arrogant rantings.

  22. Jya Jar Binks Killer

    @ 21. Arrogant dragonbreath slayer Says:

    I agree with the previous poster.

    Why thankyou – glad to hear it. Me bein’ the previous poster & all. ;-)

    Something ain’t right about this mysterious object floating around our solar system and no one seems to care.

    Eh? ‘Ang on a min! It aint that mysterious – just a small rock floating around in space as they do. Nothing too special about it really.

    Seems like other really have no answers but party line stuff.

    WTF? Dude, as said before; have you actually *READ* this thread and the links and comments here? :roll:

    Oh yeah, and arrogant rantings.

    What, like yours? :-P

  23. Cracko

    5 Days on and no clarification of what the object is, Is this normal ? didn’t even make the tv news !

  24. Messier Tidy Upper

    ^ It was an ordinary meteoroid – its on one of the links off here. It didn’t make the news because it wasn’t all that newsworthy. Just a very small rock flying past a bit close but not dramatically so or large enough to do much harm or pose much threat even if it did hit.

    See 15. awesomekip said on January 14th, 2010 at 7:33 pm :


    http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/mpml/messages?o=1

    Messages on the Minor Planets Mailing List show the object is not the Fregat booster. The object did have a close encounter with Venus in 2006, but at a distance of 0.011 AU, or about 1,645,578 km. Before that, it was last near the Earth in 1929.

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