Space fans were thrilled to learn that Asteroid 2004 BL 86, a mountain-sized space rock that has zoomed past Earth Monday, has brought along a tiny moon. Yesterday, NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, has released the first radar images of the two objects.
The asteroid is 1,100 feet wide, while its companion moon is about 230 feet wide. The closest flyby of 2004 BL86 was on Monday (January 26, 2015) at a safe distance of 750,000 miles from Earth, reaching a +9.0 magnitude. The asteroid was visible from 6:00 p.m. (CST) through early morning.
The NASA called the flyby “a rare opportunity” that all space fans shouldn’t miss. NASA scientists have been monitoring the near-Earth asteroid for 11 years. So, they were also very excited about the surprises the asteroid might bring.
On NASA’s images, the moon looked like a small bulb of light hovering above 2004 BL86’s surface.
NASA scientists reported that the Monday’s flyby was the closest move that Asteroid 2004 BL86 would make for at least two centuries. The space rock is also the closest mountain-sized asteroid to come so close to Earth. Another one is expected to fly past our planet in 2017.
However, the rare event didn’t have a perfect timing since on the same day massive snow-storms swept huge areas of the East Coast. So, many stargazers weren’t able to marvel at the unique space event.
However, even those who had a chance of a clear view couldn’t see very much because the asteroid was closest to our planet at 11:00 a.m. and continued growing in brightness over the whole day.
Still, NASA scientists had predicted that an asteroid of such size would most certainly drag along at least a moon.
“Previous studies of the light around [the asteroid] already identified a moon orbiting the asteroid, and the new images confirm the discovery,”
Lance Benner, a NASA researchers, recently reported.
NASA also cautioned that over the next centuries the asteroid might even hit Earth, so more observations are required to be done.
“Now that we have the radar data from both last night and tonight, we’ll be able to predict this much further into the future. And over the centuries, and as far as a millennia, this asteroid will be approaching slightly closer each time. So it’s definitely one we’ll want to keep our eye on,”
Paul Chodas one of the JPL’s researchers studying near-Earth objects said.
Image Source: Softpedia