Thu. Oct 22nd, 2020

Asteroid close approach: Watch as space rock shoots by Earth

2 min read

An asteroid called 2020 SW swung by Earth in the early hours of September 24, and some astronomers were lucky enough to photograph the passing space rock. The asteroid came within just seven percent the distance of the Earth and the Moon, or roughly 27,000 kilometres.

At that distance, it came closer to our planet than some satellites are to Earth’s surface.

As the asteroid, which is less than 10 metres long, shot by, astronomers at the Virtual Telescope Project snapped a photo of 2020 SW.

The Virtual Telescope Project said: “The image comes from a single, 180-seconds exposure, remotely taken with the ‘Elena’ (PlaneWave 17″+Paramount ME+SBIG STL-6303E) robotic unit available at Virtual Telescope.

“The telescope tracked the apparent motion of the asteroid, this is why stars show as trails, while the asteroid looks like a bright and sharp dot of light in the center of the image, marked by an arrow.

“At the imaging time, asteroid 2020 SW was at about 227,000 km from the Earth (59 percent of the average lunar distance) and safely approaching.

“This asteroid was discovered by the Mt Lemmon survey on 18 Sept. 2020.

“In addition, we took 130 frames, back to back, later making the time-lapse, where the asteroid is surfing the sky against the stars.”

Another astronomer, Marian Urbanik of Australia, also managed to photograph the near Earth object (NEO).

Mr Urbanik said: “I caught the asteroid while it was moving relatively slowly through the constellation Pegasus.

“At closest approach, it will race through the constellation Caelum (the chisel) at 1 degree per minute–a real challenge for astrophotographers.”

Despite the close approach, the asteroid posed no threat to our planet, even if it had collided.

At 9.7 metres, the asteroid was roughly half the size of the meteor which hit over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 2013.

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The explosion from the meteor, which burst as it hit Earth’s atmosphere, smashed thousands of windows across the city and injured almost 1,000 people.

However, the damage from a hypothetical hit from 2020 SW would be much smaller.

Astronomy site Space Weather said: “A hypothetical strike by 2020 SW would break fewer windows, and leave no craters at all.

“During the flyby, our planet’s gravity will bend the asteroid’s orbit and fling it harmlessly back into space. Au revoir, 2020 SW.”

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