Close shave: asteroid shoots past earth

2011-11-09 00:00

WHILE most South Africans were fast asleep, a giant asteroid passed by relatively close to Earth early this morning.

Asteroid 2005 YU 55, which is 400 metres wide, was at 1.28 am SA time this morning at its closest point to Earth at a distance of 325 000 km, slightly closer than the Moon.

It’s the closest fly-by of this asteroid in 200 years and is the largest asteroid to come this close since 1976. It posed no threat to Earth and could not be seen with the naked eye.

“Such a fly-by gives us an excellent, rare opportunity to study an asteroid on approach,” said Dr Scott Fisher, programme director of U.S. National Science Foundation.

Science writer and amateur astronomer Allen Versfeld of www.urban-astronomer.com said yesterday that anybody wanting to see YU 55 would need a decent sized telescope and accurate charts.

“It won’t be easy to see without professional equipment, although it’s large enough to attract attention. What we’re trying to see is an object the size of an aircraft carrier that will still be just over 320 000 km away at its closest point.

“And it’s a bit blacker than charcoal, and will be zipping by quite fast, and the Moon is almost full, which always makes faint objects harder to see” — Witness Reporter.

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