The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has released an initial view of radar observations of asteroid 2012 DA14 generated from data obtained by NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar, taken on Feb. 15-16, 2013 as the asteroid headed away from Earth. While these first radar data aren’t very picturesque, they do reveal one obvious thing: this asteroid is tumbler.
The movie is comprised of 73 radar “images” looped nine times. JPL said that during the observations, the space rock’s distance increased from 120,000 to 314,000 km (74,000 to 195,000 miles) from Earth. The resolution here is 4 meters per pixel.
The images span close to eight hours and clearly show an elongated object undergoing roughly one full rotation. JPL said the images suggest that the asteroid has a long axis of about 40 meters (130 feet). The radar observations were led by scientists Lance Benner and Marina Brozovic of JPL. Additional Goldstone radar observations were taken as the asteroid continued to move away from Earth, on February 18, 19, with more observations scheduled on the 20th.
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Radar is one of the best techniques for studying an asteroid’s size, shape, rotation state, surface features and surface roughness, and for improving calculations of its orbit. Radar measurements of asteroid distances and velocities often enable computation of asteroid orbits much further into the future than if radar observations weren’t available.