Caption: Asteroid or rocket booster? 2010 AL30 as imaged remotely from Australia on Jan. 11, 2010. Credit: Ernesto Guido & Giovanni Sostero, Remanzacco Observatory.
An unusual object will make a close flyby of Earth on Wednesday, coming within only 128,000 km (about 80,000 miles), or at a distance about three times less than the moon’s orbit. The object, named 2010 AL30, is about 10-15 meters long, and asteroid watchers say there is no chance it will hit the planet. But is it an asteroid or perhaps a piece of space junk, like a spent rocket booster?
UPDATE: The Solar System Dynamics website now says the object is an Apollo-type asteroid, which are Near-Earth asteroids that have orbits which cross the Earth’s orbit and pass approximately 1 AU or less from Earth.
According to Italian astronomers Ernesto Guido and Giovanni Sostero of the Remanzacco Observatory, who took this image (above) of 2010 AL30, it has an orbital period of almost exactly one year and might be a man-made object.
However, Alan Harris, senior researcher at the Space Science Institute said the object has a perfectly ordinary Earth-crossing orbit.
“Unlikely to be artificial, its orbit doesn’t resemble any useful spacecraft trajectory, and its encounter velocity with Earth is not unusually low,” he said.
The object make its closest approach at 12:48 GMT on Wednesday, and and amateur astronomers are encouraged to observe 2010 AL30 as a 14th magnitude star in the constellations of Orion, Taurus, and Pisces. Check here to get the ephemeris of the object from the Solar System Dynamics website.
Several observatories, including the Goldstone Radar will be observing NEO 2010 AL30 during its Earth flyby. After the January 13 close flyby, it will go too close to the Sun to be observed.