Close Approach: Images and Animations of Asteroid 2011 MD

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Today, Monday June 27 at about 17:00 UT, asteroid designated as 2011 MD will pass only 12,300 kilometers (7,600 miles) above the Earth’s surface. Here are some images and an animation of the asteroid’s close approach taken around 09:30 UT taken by Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes and Giovanni Sostero at the Faulkes Telescope South through a 2.0-m f/10.0 Ritchey-Chretien and a CCD. The trio of astronomers say that at the time these images were taken, the asteroid had a magnitude of about 14.5. At the moment of its close approach, 2011 MD will be bright as magnitude ~11.8.

The animation above shows the object’s movement in the sky. Each image was 20-second exposure.

See more below from Guido, Howes and Sostero.

Below is a single 20-second exposure also taken by the 2 meter telescope at Faulkes Telescope South, and just below that is another image using a RGB filter.

2011 MD on Monday, June 27, 2011 at 09:30 UTC. Credit: Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes and Giovanni Sostero at the Faulkes Telescope South
2011 MD on Monday, June 27, 2011 at 09:30 UTC with RBG filter. Credit: Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes and Giovanni Sostero at the Faulkes Telescope South.

Some early observers have suggested that 2011 MD — which is only 5-20 meters in diameter — could possibly be a piece of space junk, such as a rocket booster. However, additional observations and further calculations show that this asteroid could not have been close enough to Earth any time during the space age to have started off as a rocket booster.

Trajectory of 2011 MD from the general direction of the Sun. Credit: NASA

Thanks to Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes and Giovanni Sostero for sharing their image with Universe Today. See more of their work, as well as more information about asteroid 2011 MD at their Remanzacco Observatory website. See here for more information on the Faulkes Telescope.

Again, scientists at NASA’s Asteroid Watch program at JPL say there is no danger of the asteroid hitting Earth. “There is no chance that 2011 MD will hit Earth but scientists will use the close pass as opportunity to study it w/ radar observations,” they said on the the @AsteriodWatch Twitter feed. “Asteroid 2011 MD measures about 10 meters. Stony asteroids less than 25 m would break up in Earth’s atmosphere and not cause ground damage.”

Getting Closer: Images, Video of Asteroid 2011 MD

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Accomplished amateur astronomer and blogger Peter Lake, a.k.a “AstroSwanny” from Australia captured some of the first images of what will be a very close pass of Earth by asteroid 2011 MD. He actually took the image at 07:00 UTC on June 26th with a 20 inch telescope in New Mexico controlled via his iPhone, through the Global Rent-A-Scope program. Ahh, the wonders of technology! As Peter says, “Its not every day, that an asteroid misses by less than 3-5 earth Radii.”

The asteroid, which was only detected last week, is about 25 to 55 feet (8 to 18 m) across, is expected to pass less than 8,000 miles above Earth’s surface around 1 p.m. EDT (17:00 UT) on Monday, June 27th. The time of closest approach will be observable from South Africa and parts of Antarctica, but the approach will be visible across Australia, New Zealand, southern and eastern Asia, and the western Pacific.

Below is a video he compiled of the his observations of the pass, and used ten 120-second images for the video.

Peter also noted that “Its close approach is being followed with great interest, more for honing the skills and techniques of the Minor Planet Center and the network of asteroid hunting astronomers, rather than because it poses any real danger.”

Thanks to Peter and his Aartscope Blog for sharing these views with Universe Today.