Two New Asteroids to Pass Earth This Week

by Jon Voisey on September 7, 2010

Orbits of 2010 RF12 and 2010 RX30 as calculated by JPL's Small Body Databse Browser.

Two newly discovered asteroids will pass the Earth this week. The asteroids were discovered on September 5th of this year by Andrea Boattini using the 1.5 metre reflector at Mount Lemmon in Arizona as part of the Mount Lemmon Survey.

These two new asteroids have been given the designations of 2010 RF12 and 2010 RX30. Both are small bodies, which is why they were not discovered until mere days before they would pass the Earth. Estimates put the size of RF12 at 5 – 15 meters with a best estimate being around 8 meters (26 ft). The larger, RX30 is estimated to be 12 meters (39 ft), but the range of estimates go from 7 – 25.

Due to the large range of estimates on sizes, as well as poorly constrained relative velocities and an unknown composition, it would be difficult to predict the damage an impact from these bodies could cause. The majority of the mass for such small objects would burn up in the atmosphere with only small fragments surviving to the ground. For comparison, the estimated size of the object that caused the Tunguska event was estimated to be at least a few tens of meters in diameter at the point it exploded in the atmosphere some few miles up. Since the diameter helps to determine the volume, and thus the mass and kinetic energy, this factor increases the potential damage rapidly. However, although the bodies were just discovered this week, their orbits have already been well established for the near future and neither will collide with Earth. Both are rated at a 0 on the Torino scale (data from NASA’s NEO Program for RF12 and RX30 can be seen here and here respectively).

Although both objects will pass closer to the Earth than the moon, due to their small size, neither will be visible to the naked eye. 2010 RF12 is expected to pass the Earth at 21% of the Earth-moon distance and at maximum brightness, reach only 14th magnitude, which is just over 600 times too faint to see with the unaided eye. RX30 will approach at 66% of the Earth-moon distance and is expected to reach a similar peak magnitude. For those interested in tracking or photographing these objects, the Fawkes Telescope Project has created a page dedicated to these two objects, including best exposure times and filters for cameras that can be found here. Ephemeris for RF12 and RX30 can be found here and here respectively.

Although both of these asteroids were discovered on the same day and will be approaching near the same time, their orbits do not appear to be related. RF12’s orbit extends from 0.82 to 1.17 AU and it orbits the Sun once every year. Predictions have shown it only passes near the Earth once every one hundred years. Initially, RX30 was thought to be rotate extremely fast, but revised observations have shown that it takes at least 6 hours to rotate about its axis.


Jon is a science educator currently living in Missouri. He is a high school teacher and does outreach with the St. Louis Astronomical society as well as presenting talks on science and related topics at regional conventions. He graduated from the University of Kansas with his BS in Astronomy in 2008 and has maintained the Angry Astronomer blog since 2006.
For more of his work, you can find his website here.

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