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Well, that didn’t take long: The WISE spacecraft (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) spotted its first near-Earth asteroid on January 12, 2010, two days before the official start of its all-sky survey. That’s a pretty good catch, considering WISE just popped it lens cover a couple of weeks ago (December 29, 2009) and released its “first light” image on January 6. This is the first of what researchers hope will be thousands of previously undiscovered asteroids in the main asteroid belt, and hundreds of new near-Earth asteroids. By mapping the whole sky in infrared light, it should also be able to capture millions of new stars and galaxies.
WISE’s software picked up the object, 2010 AB78, moving against a background of stationary stars. Researchers followed up and confirmed the discovery with the University of Hawaii’s 2.2-meter (88-inch) visible-light telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea.
This asteroid does not pose any foreseeable impact threat to Earth, but scientists will continue to monitor it. 2010 AB78 is currently about 158 million kilometers (98 million miles) from Earth. It is estimated to be roughly 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) in diameter and circles the sun in an elliptical orbit tilted to the plane of our solar system. The object comes as close to the sun as Earth, but because of its tilted orbit, it is not thought to pass near our planet.