News / Science & Technology

Asteroid's Spin Intrigues Astronomers

A simulation of asteroid 2012 DA14 approaching from the south as it passes through the Earth-moon system on Feb. 15, 2013. (/NASA/JPL-Caltech)
A simulation of asteroid 2012 DA14 approaching from the south as it passes through the Earth-moon system on Feb. 15, 2013. (/NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Suzanne Presto
Astronomers hope to learn more about Asteroid 2012 DA14's features and composition as it flies past Earth at about 7.8 kilometers per second - far faster than a speeding bullet.  But that's not all they hope to discern when the object comes within 28,000 kilometers of our planet on February 15.  

Spin

Michael Busch is a planetary astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in the southwestern U.S. state of New Mexico.  He says the direction of DA14's spin is important in predicting the way its orbit will change over time.
   
"One of the interesting things about DA14 is we expect its spin state will change as it flies by the Earth," said Busch.  "The Earth's gravity will pull slightly more on one side of the asteroid than on the other, and that will change its spin."

Speckles

The U.S. space agency's Goldstone antenna in the western state of California will beam radio waves toward the asteroid.  Busch and his team will be about 1,000 kilometers away in New Mexico, where the National Radio Astronomy Observatory operates a pair of antennas, about 400 kilometers apart.  The two antennas will receive the waves reflected off the asteroid's uneven surface.  

Busch explains parts of the asteroid will reflect the signal differently, allowing astronomers to observe so-called "speckles."  

"That pattern is random, but it moves across the Earth as the asteroid spins, so by tracking the time difference in when a different speckle arrives at a given antenna, I can figure out how fast and in what direction the asteroid is spinning," he said.

Changes in Orbit

Busch also explains that the part of the asteroid that is in view of the sun develops a hot spot that radiates heat.  This exerts a gentle, jet-like push that can speed up or slow down the asteroid.  Over time, this can significantly alter its orbit.

Astronomers with NASA, the U.S. space agency, say 2012 DA14's next notable close approach to our planet will be in 2046, and even then, it won't strike the Earth.  
Busch notes that while scientists can - for the most part - precisely predict DA14's orbit for the next century, this space rock will yield important insights into the behavior of other asteroids.  

"With the radar observations that we'll get this weekend after the close approach and the optical infrared data that is also coming in, we will be able to much better predict where DA14 in particular is going and run that orbit out much further into the future," said Busch.  "But this also lets us begin to understand the properties of the near-Earth asteroids as a population."

The U.S. space agency says, on average, an asteroid the size of 2012 DA14 gets close every 40 years and hits every 1,200 years.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: jasper johns from: memphis
February 17, 2013 8:17 PM
There's a great, funny, novel about an asteroid heading toward earth and how people deal with it. It's called THE MYOSHI EFFECT.


by: Michael from: USA
February 15, 2013 9:59 AM
"Ah, yes space objects are so beautiful", holding breath and wiping sweat away with a cloth--

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid