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First movie of asteroid YU55 released by NASA

November 8, 2011 |  4:37 pm


A steady stream of information about asteroid 2005 YU55 continued to flow from NASA on Tuesday, leading up to the moment  when the asteroid was closest to Earth, at 3:48 p.m. PST.

The latest piece of imagery to come from the space agency is a mini-movie of the asteroid (above) made up of six images taken Monday via a radar telescope. The images were captured when the asteroid was still about 860,000 miles from Earth.

The resolution is 4 meters per pixel and the movie is looped five times. Each image reportedly took 20 minutes of data collection from the Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif.

Although the images appear pixelated, NASA astronomers are excited about the amount of detail they reveal.

"By animating a sequence of radar images, we can see more surface detail than is visible otherwise," radar astronomer Lance Benner said in a statement. He's the principal investigator for the 2005 YU55 observations, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.  "The animation reveals a number of puzzling structures on the surface that we don't yet understand. To date, we've seen less than one-half of the surface, so we expect more surprises."

Scientists at NASA say the asteroid is turning at a speed of one full rotation per 18 hours.

You can watch live video of the asteroid at or via the Keck Telescope in Hawaii, in cooperation with the Astronomical League and the Planetary Society.

Unless you're a very serious astronomer -- amateur or otherwise -- watching the asteroid via computer is a better way to go than trying to find it in the night sky. The asteroid will be visible only with a 6- to 8-inch (or bigger) telescope, and it won't be easy to find.

Stephen Edberg, an astronomer at JPL, told The Times that in order to see the asteroid, you would need a good telescope -- and a good sky map.

"That would be an absolute requirement," he said.  "You are not going to spot this without something like that."


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--Deborah Netburn

Video: Scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory created this six-frame movie of asteroid YU55. It was generated from data obtained by NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar on Nov. 7. At the time, the space rock was approximately 860,000 miles from Earth.