Thursday, November 3, 2011

Asteroid YU55 Flyby (Nov. 8, 2011) - An Observing Dream for Astronomers

Asteroid 2005 YU55 radar image. (Wikipedia)
On Nov. 8, 2011, asteroid 2005 YU55 will fly by the earth. It will pass closer than the moon is to us, which is kind of scary for some people who think it might hit us. But really, the experts know whether any planetoid out there will be a danger to earth for as long as they've had ample time to study them. Since asteroid YU55 has been known for quite some time, the people on earth really have nothing to fear. According to JPL Goldstone scientist, Marina Brozovic, "We know exactly where it is going to be, and we don't have any chance of impact for the following hundred years." So alright, that's good to know. So it's our grandchildren that will have something to worry about in the future.

But asteroid YU55 isn't really about the end of the world. It's by far the greatest opportunity for astronomers, amateur and professional to be able to get their telescopes set up and see what an asteroid looks like in person and up close. Sure some of you reading this may have already observed a few famous asteroids like Vesta and Ceres, but how they appear in a small telescope would be nothing compared to YU55 as it passes by the earth. At 201,700 miles close and at 1,300 feet wide (about 4 football fields) and seemingly round (which is kind of uncommon for a small asteroid), and black, like charcoal - so it is taunting us in a way, like it's saying, "Come on now, this is a once in a lifetime chance to see a strange asteroid up close, so watch me!"

More details about the path and other things about asteroid YU55 are in The Watchers, and of course, Wikipedia.

The asteroid belt figures prominently in this 100-piece jigsaw puzzle for kids. It's a great way to teach them about the solar system. Order your Solar System Cardboard Jigsaw Puzzle by clicking here or on the image.