This is our best look yet at asteroid 2014 JO25, which made its closest pass by Earth for at least the next 500 years on April 19, 2017. The animation above is composed of radar observations made from NASA’s Goldstone facility in California when the asteroid was between 1.53 and 1.61 million miles away. These and earlier, lower-resolution images obtained the previous day (you can see those here) showed this asteroid to be a contact binary—two objects connected by a “neck” of material, not unlike the comet 67P that ESA’s Rosetta mission explored. The largest section of JO25 is estimated to be 2,000 feet (610 meters) wide, and at its widest the entire asteroid is about 3,300 feet (1 km) across. Observations also show JO25 rotates once every 4.5 hours.
SPACE NEWS FLASH: On Wednesday, April 19, the asteroid 2014 JO25 will pass by Earth, coming as close as about 1.1 million miles at 12:24 UTC (8:24 a.m. EDT / 5:24 a.m. PDT). Yes, this asteroid is fairly large—just under half a mile across—and is traveling very fast—about 21 miles a second— BUT even so it poses no danger to Earth as 1.1 million miles is still over four and a half times the distance to the Moon…and it’s simply not going to get any closer than that.
It’s. Just. Not.
It sounds like a surprise challenge posed by the “Dungeon Master” in a game of Dungeons & Dragons but this is sort of what happened on a cosmic scale on Feb. 6, 2017, when the 200-meter (656-foot) -wide asteroid 2017 BQ6 passed by Earth. Using the radar imaging capabilities of the giant 70-meter antenna at NASA’s DSN facility in Goldstone, CA, scientists got a good look at the object as it passed—and it does seem to resemble a tumbling gaming die!
“The radar images show relatively sharp corners, flat regions, concavities, and small bright spots that may be boulders,” said Lance Benner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who leads the agency’s asteroid radar research program. “Asteroid 2017 BQ6 reminds me of the dice used when playing Dungeons and Dragons. It is certainly more angular than most near-Earth asteroids imaged by radar.”
Telescope twin powers: ACTIVATE! Form of… an asteroid?
Okay, so the telescopes involved aren’t twins — one is a giant 70-meter dish in California’s Mojave Desert and the other is a 305-meter behemoth high in the Puerto Rican rain forest — they did combine their powers to image the passing asteroid 2014 HQ124 on June 8 as it came to within about 3 lunar distances, obtaining some of the highest-resolution data of a near-Earth asteroid ever.
Before the pass this object was being called “the beast,” but once astronomers bounced some radar off it its true beauty shined through. Read more in my Discovery News article here.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arecibo Observatory/USRA/NSF
Deep in the Mojave desert of central California, scattered among the scrub-covered hills and rugged, rock-strewn fields, are enormous white radar dishes pointed at the sky — NASA’s “ears” for listening to the faint calls coming from its many spacecraft out exploring our solar system. I recently had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Deep Space Network complex in Goldstone (read my full account here) and while there took some photos of one of DSN’s most impressive sites: “Apollo Valley,” the home of DSS-24, -25, and -26, three giant 34-meter high-gain “Beam Waveguide” antennas (the first two of which are seen above) as well as the original Apollo dish that once received messages from Apollo 11 as it made its historic Moon landing.
With the spring desert flowers in bloom and the antennas gleaming white against the blue sky, it was an impressive sight! Click the image above for a full-sized version.