Swift Satellite Captures Asteroid 2005 YU55’s Tumbling Flyby

If you want to photograph something in space, what better way than to have a spacecraft take the picture? The Swift Telescope – better known for its study of high-energy outbursts and cosmic explosions – was able to observe the flyby of 2005 YU55, the asteroid that came within 324,600 kilometers (201,700 miles) of Earth this week, and captured its tumbling, rapid motion across the sky.

“Swift’s ultraviolet and X-ray capability gives scientists a unique perspective on comets and asteroids, expanding the spectral window beyond the radio, infrared and optical observations so well handled by big ground-based facilities,” said Sergio Campana, a Swift team member at Brera Observatory in Merate, Italy.” Campana requested that the spacecraft train its telescopes on the asteroid as a target of opportunity.
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Images, Video from Around the World of Asteroid 2005 YU55’s Close Pass

Animation showing Asteroid 2005 YU55 moving across the sky. Each image was a 2-second exposure, taken with the GRAS Observatory, near Mayhill, New Mexico. Credit: Ernesto Guido, Giovanni Sostero and Nick Howes


A 400-meter-wide asteroid created a lot of “buzz” as it buzzed by Earth, with its closest approach on November 08, 2011 at 23:28 Universal Time (UT). The Near-Earth Asteroid 2005 YU55 passed within 319,000 km (202,000 miles or 0.85 lunar distances, 0.00217 AU) from Earth’s surface. Later, it safely passed our moon at distance of 239,500 km (148,830 miles ). Astronomers from around the world trained their telescopes on this object, hoping to capture images and learn more about this dark space rock.

Above is an animation from the team of Ernesto Guido, Giovanni Sostero and Nick Howes, remotely using the the GRAS Observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico USA with a 0.25-meter telescope, f/3.4 reflector and a CCD camera. The trio said that at the moment of their observing session the asteroid was moving at about 260.07″/min and it was at magnitude ~11. You can see more images and details on their Remanzacco Observatory website. A single image they took is below, along with other observations from various points around the globe, including an infrared image taken with the Keck Observatory.

This first infrared image of asteroid 2005 YU55 was captured by the Keck II telescope. Credit: William Merline, SWRI / W.M. Keck Observatory

The Keck Observatory hosted a live webcast of their observations of the asteroid, hoping to get infrared images and perhaps a three-dimensional view of the asteroid with one of the world’s largest optical/infrared telescopes. They also hoped to be able to look for moons around the asteroid, as about 20% of asteroids have “moons” orbiting them. Battling delays from fog at the summit of Mauna Kea, they team had to wait until conditions cleared, which unfortunately meant the asteroid was farther away when they were able to take a one-second infrared observation. Principal Investigator Bill Merline said it may take days to process this raw data, so look for a more refined image from the team soon. The webcast was a lot of fun, as they showed the events going on insides the observing rooms on both the summit and Waimea, and answered questions from viewers.

This video above is from Jason Ware from Plano, Texas USA who observed Asteroid 2005 YU55 with a 12 inch telescope to create the video.

Near Earth Asteroid 2005 YU55 on 11-08-2011 07:18pm E.S.T., a 10 second exposure. Credit: John Chumack

John Chumack of Galactic Images in Ohio took this image of the asteroid on 11-08-2011 at 07:18pm E.S.T., a 10 second exposure using a 16″ telescope and a QHY8 CCD. John also created a video, which is available on Flickr.

Peter Lake from Australia, has a telescope in New Mexico. He took a series of images at around 03:00 UTC on Nov. 9, using a 20-inch Planewave with a FLI PL11002M. The image field is 4008 X 2675 pixels and about 0.91 arc secs per pixel, so it passed at about 500 arc sec per minute, Lake said.

This video was taken by Steven Conard at the Willow Oak Observatory in Gamber, Maryland USA, with observations on November 9, 11 with the WOO C-14 telescope. This one has a special bonus–a satellite passes through the field as well.

We’ll add more images and video as they become available. Add your images to our Flickr group and we’ll post them.

Asteroid 2005 YU55’s flyby is the closest approach by an object of this size for the next 16 years. In August 2027, AN 10 is going to come within about one lunar distance from Earth. Astronomers estimate this asteroid is anywhere from 1/2 to 2 kilometers in diameter.

Just six months later, 2001 WN5, a 700-meter-wide asteroid will fly between the Earth and the Moon in June 2028, followed by Apophis on April 13, 2029.

Live Webcast as Keck Telescope Attempts Images of Asteroid 2005 YU55


Astronomers from the Keck Telescope in Hawaii will be trying to observe Asteroid 2005 YU55 as it flies away from Earth. A live webcast from Keck starts about the same time this article is being published, starting no later than 9 pm U.S. PST on Nov. 8, or Midnight EST/ 0500 UT on Wednesday, Nov. 9. Indications are the webcast might start a little late because of fog on Mauna Kea.

Their hope is to get infrared images and perhaps a three-dimensional view of the asteroid with one of the world’s largest optical/infrared telescopes. The observing run is being webcast live on UStream from the Keck II Remote Operations room in Kamuela, Hawaii. They also are hoping to be able to look for moons around the asteroid. About 20% of asteroids have “moons” orbiting them.

At the helm of the 10-meter Keck II telescope and using Keck’s pioneering adaptive optics to view YU55 will be asteroid investigators William Merline and Peter Tamblyn of Southwest Research Institute, in Boulder, Colorado, and Chris Neyman of Keck Observatory.

First Movie of Asteroid 2005 YU55’s Flyby

Here’s a short movie of Asteroid 2005 YU55, created from data collected from the 70-meter Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California. The video was generated from six frames, and each of the six frames required 20 minutes of radar data collection. They are the highest-resolution images ever generated by radar of a near-Earth object.
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Just In: NASA’s Latest Image of Asteroid 2005 YU55

This radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 was obtained on Nov. 7, 2011. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech.


NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna in Goldstone, California has captured new radar images of Asteroid 2005 YU55 as it begins its close pass by Earth. The image above was taken on Nov. 7 at 11:45 a.m. PST (2:45 p.m. EST/1945 UTC), when the asteroid was approximately 1.38 million kilometers (860,000 miles) or about 3.6 lunar distances away from Earth. It’s not a great image, but there should be better images available as the asteroid gets closer. Several telescopes will be tracking of the aircraft carrier-sized asteroid throughout the pass. Goldstone’s 230-foot-wide (70-meter) antenna has been keeping an eye on it since Nov. 4, and the Arecibo Planetary Radar Facility in Puerto Rico will begin observations on Nov. 8, as the asteroid will make its closest approach to Earth at 3:28 p.m. PST (6:28 p.m. EST/1128 UTC).

The Slooh telescope will be hosting a live webcast of the flyby on Nov. 8, 2011. Find out more at the Slooh Events page. Keep track of the latest images gathered by astronomers at the Asteroid and Comet Watch website.

Source: NASA

Take a Look: Huge Asteroid to Fly By Earth in November

This radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 was generated from data taken in April of 2010 by the Arecibo Radar Telescope in Puerto Rico. Image credit: NASA/Cornell/Arecibo


A large space rock will pass close to Earth on November 8, 2011 and astronomers are anticipating the chance to see asteroid 2005 YU55 close up. Just like meteorites offer a free “sample return” mission from space, this close flyby is akin to sending a spacecraft to fly by an asteroid – just like how the Rosetta mission recently flew by asteroid Lutetia – but this time, no rocket is required. Astronomers are making sure Spaceship Earth will have all available resources trained on 2005 YU55 as it makes its closest approach, and this might be a chance for you to see the asteroid for yourself, as well.

“While near-Earth objects of this size have flown within a lunar distance in the past, we did not have the foreknowledge and technology to take advantage of the opportunity,” said Barbara Wilson, a scientist at JPL. “When it flies past, it should be a great opportunity for science instruments on the ground to get a good look.”

2005 YU55 is about 400 meters [1,300 feet] wide, and closest approach will be about 325,000 kilometers (201,700 miles) from Earth.

“This is the largest space rock we have identified that will come this close until 2028,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL, and Yeomans assured that we are in no danger from this asteroid.

“YU55 poses no threat of an Earth collision over, at the very least, the next 100 years,” he said. “During its closest approach, its gravitational effect on the Earth will be so miniscule as to be immeasurable. It will not affect the tides or anything else.”

Astronomers estimate that asteroids the size of YU55 come this close to Earth about every 25 years. We just haven’t had this much advance warning – a testament to the work that Yeomans and his team does at the NEO Program in detecting asteroids and detecting them early.

So, here’s a chance for a close-up look. The 70-meter (230-foot) newly upgraded Goldstone antenna in California, part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, will be imaging the asteroid with radar.

“Using the Goldstone radar operating with the software and hardware upgrades, the resulting images of YU55 could come in with resolution as fine as 4 meters per pixel,” said Benner. “We’re talking about getting down to the kind of surface detail you dream of when you have a spacecraft fly by one of these targets.”

Combining the radar images with ground-based optical and near-infrared observations, astronomers should get a good overview of one of the larger near-Earth objects.

Look for more information in the near future about observing campaigns for amateur astronomers of this object. At first, 2005 YU55 will be too close to the sun and too faint for optical observers. But late in the day (Universal Time) on Nov. 8, and early on Nov. 9, the asteroid could reach about 11th magnitude for several hours before it fades as its distance rapidly increases.

This radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 was generated from data taken in April of 2010 by the Arecibo Radar Telescope in Puerto Rico. Image credit: NASA/Cornell/Arecibo

2005 YU55 was discovered in December 2005 by Robert McMillan, head of the NASA-funded Spacewatch Program at the University of Arizona, Tucson. In April 2010, Mike Nolan and colleagues at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico generated some ghostly images of 2005 YU55 when the asteroid was about 2.3 million kilometers (1.5 million miles) from Earth.

“The best resolution of the radar images was 7.5 meters [25 feet] per pixel,” said JPL radar astronomer Lance Benner. “When 2005 YU55 returns this fall … the asteroid will be seven times closer. We’re expecting some very detailed radar images.”

Radar antennas beam directed microwave signals at their celestial targets — which can be as close as our moon and as far away as the moons of Saturn. These signals bounce off the target, and the resulting “echo” is collected and precisely collated to create radar images, which can be used to reconstruct detailed three-dimensional models of the object. This defines its rotation precisely and gives scientists a good idea of the object’s surface roughness. They can even make out surface features, and astronomers hope to see boulders and craters on the surfaces of 2005 YU55, as well as detailing the mineral composition of the asteroid.

“This is a C-type asteroid, and those are thought to be representative of the primordial materials from which our solar system was formed,” said Wilson. “This flyby will be an excellent opportunity to test how we study, document and quantify which asteroids would be most appropriate for a future human mission.”
Yeomans said this is a great opportunity for scientific discovery. “So stay tuned. This is going to be fun.”

Source: JPL