Video of asteroid near miss from this morning

By Phil Plait | October 12, 2010 9:11 am

Yesterday I wrote about asteroid 2010 TD54, a small rock 5-10 meters in diameter that was due to buzz by the Earth this morning at 11:25 UT. Apparently all went well, and it passed us as predicted.

Amateur astronomer Patrick Wiggins was able to grab some images of the asteroid shortly before closest approach and put them together into this nifty animation:

[I recommend viewing at the 480 resolution; it looks much nicer.]

Nice. He used a 36 cm (14 inch) Celestron telescope with a sophisticated astronomical digital camera to get these. Each exposure was only five seconds long, giving you an idea of how quickly this rock was zipping along, even more than two hours before it actually passed us. He also has an animation where he was able to track the asteroid better, so it looks nearly stationary while stars zip by.

Images like this one can actually be pretty important: they can be used to nail down the orbit of the asteroid. The orbit is calculated mathematically using images of the asteroid over time. Uncertainty in the measurements, the exact position of the asteroid, the user’s location, and more can all add up to the orbit being imprecisely known. That means that we might be able to predict where it is in the near future, but as time goes on the prediction gets fuzzier. The more observations we get, the more we can smooth out those issues.

And when they pass as close as TD54 did — just 46,000 km (28,000) above the Earth! — its orbit can change a lot due to Earth’s gravity. Observations like this one can really be important to be to know where TD54 will be heading in its future travels.

… and one more thing. This is good practice. In April 2029, the 250-meter wide asteroid Apophis will be passing the Earth at about the same distance as TD54 did. We know Apophis won’t hit us, but if it passes at just the right distance, Earth’s gravity will bend its orbit enough to bring it back on an impact trajectory 7 years later! We’re pretty sure there’s literally only a one in a million chance of that happening, but if we get hundreds of observations of the asteroid when it passes, we’ll have its orbit nailed down enough to predict the path of Apophis well into the future. While even Apophis isn’t a huge threat (in that we don’t think it’ll hit any time soon), there are hundreds and thousands of other rocks out there on orbits that cross ours.

Astronomy is one of the very few sciences where amateurs can make a big contribution. And in this case, they very well may literally help save the Earth.

Tip o’ the Whipple Shield to scibuff.


Related posts:

Tiny rock to buzz Earth Tuesday
Apophis danger downgraded
100 years ago today: KABLAM!!!!!
We’re all doomed… oh wait, no we’re not


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: 2010 TD54

Comments (28)

Links to this Post

  1. Who Will Dig Our Bones if Apophis Hits? | November 5, 2010
  1. Robert E

    w. regards to Apophis hitting us: there are people who bet on longer odds than that in Vegas every day

    I’m not sure what the point there is. Either that most people are incredibly unable to understand probability, or that unlikely things can occur. Take your pick.

  2. Anybody want to take a guess as to how long before this clip appears on UFO websites?

    I mean, it does show a cylindrical object zooming past…

  3. Jason

    Looks like a clean pitch right down the strike zone. I think we should be glad the batter didn’t get beaned this time. Though I don’t think it was large enough to be a real danger.

  4. John

    ..Should be a “near hit” not a “near miss” as a near miss is a hit ;)

  5. Michel

    Great work from Patrick Wiggins!

  6. Have I mentioned how much I love the fact that the 2029 rogue is called Apophis? It could be the best thing ever. You know, until Anubis is discovered.

  7. Messier Tidy Upper

    @^ Michel : Yep. Well done, congrats and thanks to Patrick Wiggins. :-)

    Plus as always the BA for sharing and writing this up so well. Love this blog. :-)

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    We know Apophis won’t hit us,

    Yet! Not this time anyhow. ;-)

    Long term though .. hmm..

    @2. kuhnigget :

    Anybody want to take a guess as to how long before this clip appears on UFO websites? I mean, it does show a cylindrical object zooming past…

    Oh, about half a nanosecond .. perhaps less? ;-)

  9. kuhnigget

    Anybody want to take a guess as to how long before this clip appears on UFO websites?

    I mean, it does show a cylindrical object zooming past…

    And did China shut down any airports?

    http://news.google.com/news/search?q=china+airport+shutdown+ufo

  10. Grand Lunar

    Excellent work here!

    I would never has guessed such an object would be visible to amatuer equipment.

  11. Denz

    “We’re pretty sure there’s literally only a one in a million chance of that happening,”

    Oh crap, all Terry Pratchett fans know that million to one chances happen nine times out of ten.

  12. just 46,000 km (28,000) above the Earth!

    28,000 what?

  13. Oli

    @9. Bjørnar Tuftin: 28,000 internets!
    He meant 28,000 miles ;-)

  14. Mike

    28,000 miles 46,000 X 0.62 =~ 28,000

  15. Matt

    Patrick Wiggins is one of the rock stars of Utah’s amateur astronomy scene. He’s inspired countless people (myself included, over 20 years ago when I attended one of his summer space camps) to become interested in astronomy.

    http://bit.ly/b83HCb

  16. “He also has an animation where he was able to track the asteroid better, so it looks nearly stationary while stars zip by.”
    I can only say: “Warp 5! – Engage!”
    Thanks for the beautiful work, Patrick Wiggins, and thanks for sharing, BA.
    Cheers, Regner

  17. Strahlungamt

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3520636.stm

    UFO streaks through Martian sky

    Funny how I haven’t seen this one on any UFO sites.

  18. Len

    Am I the only one that gets a little kick out of the way it connects the dots between those two central stars in one of the frames. Kinda like a minamilist constellation drawing.

  19. Jeff

    I would say better still not be too sure about Apophis. That is big and if it did hit earth,

    in city: would blow up a typical large metropolitan area

    out in country: would be a Tunguska type event

    in ocean: a moderate to large Tsunami

    and asteroids size of Apolphis hit earth about every 10 millenia.

  20. @ Len: no you’re not I though that was cool to! Phil, Is there any chance, do you think, that someone could get a spectral reading off this little ‘un and determine its type?

  21. alfaniner

    “Missed us by that much!”

  22. That someone can watch an object in a telescope and calculate its orbit is an impressive mystery to me. I am sure that if I had studied astronomy it would merely be a challenging exercise. But to me it is sufficiently advanced that it appears to be magic.

  23. Yeebok

    @18 yes I thought that was a nice coincidental position and frame timing. Made me think of the game ‘squares’.

    As for amateur equipment, it depends whether you mean “rich amateur” or “poor amateur” :)

  24. Gamercow

    anyone else notice the other object going from the right up to the center, from approx 3 oclock position to 1 oclock position in the last 2 frames? Or am I seeing things?

  25. Howard

    I had to check to see if that was 5-10 meters or kilometers. It is meters. Can you really call something that small an asteroid? If a planetoid is a small planet, is an asteroid a small aster? Phil, why is the asteroid belt so elongated and tilted compared to the orbits of the planets? Shouldn’t the asteroid belt occupy the region between Mars and Jupiter in an orbit that matches theirs both in elongation and tilt?

  26. Chas, PE SE

    I thought it was nifty that, in the near-stationary / stars moving video, you can see it change albedo as it rotates! (I’m assuming)

  27. i’m not sure my ‘scope can be programmed to “chase” an object such as this small a
    “rock” help, anyone?

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