Tuesday, May 28, 2024

An asteroid is moving strangely near the Earth… Scientists are at a loss!


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New research by NASA has shown that an asteroid that erratically passed near Earth in early February has an unusual shape and rotation that has puzzled scientists, according to the science journal “LiveScience.”

Astronomers finally got a close-up look at a “dangerous” asteroid as it passed safely past Earth. What they saw was a “strangely elongated space rock for an asteroid” that was rotating much more slowly than expected.

The space rock made headlines at the time because researchers predicted that the asteroid’s 621-day orbit around the Sun could put it on course for a catastrophic collision with Earth in 2040, but follow-up observations in 2012 revealed that its orbit was grossly miscalculated. It poses no real threat to our planet.

Discovered in 2011

The asteroid anomaly, known as 2011 AG5, was discovered in January 2011 and passed within 1.1 million miles (1.8 million km) of Earth in February 2023. Its close flyby gave astronomers a chance to scan it properly. For the first time, the powerful 230-foot (70-meter) wide Goldstone radar at NASA’s Space Network Facility in Southern California.

Researchers took several images of the asteroid, and the mysterious images show “2011 AG5” asteroid 1,600 feet (500 meters) long and about 500 feet (150 meters) wide, about the size of the Empire State Building in New York.

Radar scans helped researchers calculate the asteroid’s rotation, revealing that the rectangular body takes about 9 hours to complete one rotation. It has a much longer rotation period than most asteroids.

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Additionally, the researchers wrote in their report: “It is not clear why the asteroid rotates so slowly.”

Dark spots.. and a riddle!

The new images showed dark and light spots on the asteroid’s surface several feet across, which could indicate the presence of many small-scale surface features scattered throughout the asteroid. But what that could be is still a mystery, says the journal Science.

Paul Sodas, director of JBL’s Vornas Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, said in the statement, “These new range of measurements by the Planetary Radar team will improve the space available in the future.” “This will increase the opportunity to learn more about this strange space rock,” he added.

Researchers hope that more data about the asteroid’s trajectory collected by the new radar scan will provide clues to its location in the future, which could help explain its unusual properties.

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Nadia Barnett
Nadia Barnett
"Award-winning beer geek. Extreme coffeeaholic. Introvert. Avid travel specialist. Hipster-friendly communicator."

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