Friday, June 24, 2011

Asteroid - or is it space junk? - will get very close on Monday

NASA's Near Earth Object (NEO) program office stunned the astronomical world yesterday with news that a small asteroid will pass extremely close by Earth on Monday.

From NASA-NEO: "Near-Earth asteroid 2011 MD will pass only 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) above the Earth's surface on Monday June 27 at about 9:30 EDT. The asteroid was discovered by the LINEAR near-Earth object discovery team observing from Socorro, New Mexico. The diagram on the left shows the trajectory of 2011 MD projected onto the Earth's orbital plane over a four-day interval. This small asteroid, only 5-20 meters in diameter, is in a very Earth-like orbit about the Sun, but an orbital analysis indicates there is no chance it will actually strike Earth on Monday. One would expect an object of this size to come this close to Earth about every 6 years on average. For a brief time, it will be bright enough to be seen even with a modest-sized telescope."

However, Sky and Telescope magazine is suggesting that the object is in almost the same plane as the Earth and traveling with the same velocity. Could it actually be a rocket booster that broke out of orbit and is now just a bus-sized piece of space junk?

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