Scientists at the United States-based NASA have found “one of the most elongated asteroids” ever pictured by their planetary radar. The space agency said that the asteroid flew past Earth at a safe distance, earlier this month, but what caught their attention was the odd shape which they described as oblong. The asteroid was being closely tracked by the scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, US who made “invaluable observations to help determine its size, rotation, surface details, and, most notably, shape,” said the space agency in a press release.
The asteroid in question is called 2011 AG5 whose close approach on February 3 gave scientists the opportunity to get a detailed look at the celestial object first discovered in 2011. The asteroid is said to be 1600 feet long and about 500 feet wide and its dimensions are comparable to the Empire State Building. The celestial object was seen by the powerful 230-foot (70-metre) Goldstone Solar System Radar antenna dish at the Deep Space Network’s facility near Barstow, California, revealing the dimensions of this extremely elongated asteroid, said NASA.
The principal scientist at JPL who helped lead the observations, Lance Benner noted that there have been 1,040 near-Earth objects observed by planetary radar out of which 2011 AG5 has been “one of the most elongated we’ve seen”. The observations which took place at the end of last month and ended on February 4 also noted other details like a large, broad concavity in one of the asteroid’s two hemispheres and would appear as dark as charcoal if it were to be viewed by the human eye.
“The observations also confirmed 2011 AG5 has a slow rotation rate, taking nine hours to fully rotate,” said NASA. The space agency also confirmed that since the radar provides precise distance measurements, they believe that asteroid 2011 AG5 orbits the Sun once every 621 days. Earth will not have a close encounter with it until 2040 and even then it will pass at a distance of about 670,000 miles (1.1 million kilometres), it added.
“Interestingly, shortly after its discovery, 2011 AG5 became a poster-child asteroid when our analysis showed it had a small chance of a future impact,” said Paul Chodas, the director of NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at JPL. He added, “Continued observations of this object ruled out any chance of impact, and these new ranging measurements by the planetary radar team will further refine exactly where it will be far into the future.”
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