Video: Asteroid 2010 TD54 Whizzes Close to Earth

by Nancy Atkinson on October 12, 2010

A 'movie' put together from images of the October 12, 2010 approach of asteroid 2010 TD54.Image credit: Patrick Wiggins, NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador to Utah

Amateur astronomer Patrick Wiggins from Utah (and fellow Solar System Ambassador) was able to capture images this morning of the newly found asteroid 2010 TD54 that whizzed by Earth — harmlessly — coming within about 46,000 km (less than 30,000 miles) of our planet. The small asteroid was only detected this past Saturday, and NASA’s Near Earth Object Office predicted there was only 1 in a million chance it would hit Earth, and was small enough that it wouldn’t survive a fiery trip through the atmosphere even if it was going to make crash head-on into Earth. Patrick put together a couple of “movies” from the images he captured. They show the asteroid whispering silently through the sky, although moving along fairly quickly at 17.37 km/s. Estimates are the asteroid is about 7.3 m wide, and contained the energy of about 22 kilotons if it would have come crashing through Earth’s atmosphere. For this animation, the mount was set to allow the target to pass through the field of view, and includes 16 five-second exposures shot between 08:51:51 and 08:54:04 UTC.

There’s an additional image below.

In this animation, asteroid 2010 TD54 appears stationary as the stars move. Image credit: Patrick Wiggins, NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador to Utah

For this set of images, Patrick set the mount set to nearly follow the target. The animation includes 23 five- second exposures shot between 09:01:27 and 09:04:39 UTC.

Patrick uses a Paramount ME, Celestron C-14 operating at f/5.5, SBIG ST-10 binned 3×3 with clear filter. The field of view in this image is about 18×26 arc minutes.

“The target was rotating quickly during both sequences which is “reflected” (pun intended) by its rapidly changing brightness,” Patrick wrote on a news group webpage for asteroid and comet researchers.

Great work! And Universe Today thanks Patrick for allowing us to post his images/animations.

While most people are breathing a sigh of relief that this asteroid didn’t hit Earth, others are of the opinion this near miss was a missed opportunity. “The message here should be: It was a pity that TD54 *missed* Earth because it would have made a nice fireball and meteorite shower!” said astronomer and writer Daniel Fischer, who writes the Cosmos4U blog.

Other astronomers and meteorite buffs said this asteroid could have ended up like the famous 2008 TC3, the first asteroid to have been spotted before hitting Earth, which crashed in northern Sudan, providing a treasure trove of information about asteroids and the early solar system in a very handy “sample return.”

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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