NASA captures elaborate imagery of elongated asteroids using planetary radar

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conduct in-depth observations of the long space rock on February 3, 2023. This was when an asteroid known as 2011 AG5 safely passed by Earth. In terms of size, the asteroid measures over 1,600 feet long and over 500 feet wide. This bears a resemblance to the Empire State Building. It traveled nearly five times as far from Earth as the Moon did as it passed Earth. The distance was around 1.1 million miles.

The Deep Space Network facility near Barstow, California is home to the potent 230-foot Goldstone Solar System Radar antenna dish. It is employed by researchers to take precise pictures of the asteroid. Among the most elongated asteroids ever seen, the highly elongated object’s measurements were revealed by this radar. “Of the 1,040 near-Earth objects seen by planetary radar that were too far, this is among the most elongated we have observed,” said Lance Benner. Lance serves as the principal scientist at JPL and assisted lead the observations.

The asteroid’s characteristics were revealed by the Goldstone radar measurements, which were made between January 29 and February 4. One of its two hemispheres has a massive, broad concavity, and subtle dark and light areas may be small-scale surface features a few dozen meters across. With no equipment to assist the observation, the asteroid would have an appearance as dark as charcoal. The observations also demonstrated that 2011 AG5 rotates slowly, taking nine hours to complete one full circle.

The Goldstone radar scans helped to improve the understanding of the asteroid features. This included a close-up appearance as well as the asteroid’s orbital mechanics around the Sun. Radar offers accurate distance readings. These readings can be used to fine-tune the asteroid’s orbital route by researchers at NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). The asteroid does one circuit around the Sun every 621 days. It will not approach Earth closely until 2040. At a distance of roughly 670,000 miles, it will safely pass our planet when it reaches that point. The distance is equal to about three times the Earth-Moon distance.

It’s interesting to note that the 2011 AG5 quickly gained fame as the “poster child” asteroid. This was after it was determined that there was little risk of an impact in the future. However, further observations of this object eliminated any possibility of an impact. In addition, the planetary radar team’s new ranging measurements will further hone its orbit for a very long time to come. To analyze the risk of an impact, CNEOS computes the orbits of all known near-Earth asteroids. The Planetary Defense Coordination Office at NASA’s headquarters in Washington houses the Near-Earth Object Observations Program. It provides assistance to both CNEOS and the Goldstone Solar System Radar Group.

The elongated asteroid 2011 AG5’s size, shape, and orbit have all been revealed by studies done by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory employing the Goldstone radar. Our knowledge of the potential dangers posed by near-Earth asteroids has been advanced by these discoveries. NASA is taking significant steps to protect our planet. In addition, it has undertaken measures to guarantee our continued astronomical exploration by monitoring these objects and fine-tuning their orbital routes.