Melbourne: An asteroid with potential power of 15 atomic bombs will make its closest approach to Earth on Friday night when it passes just outside the orbit of the moon.
The asteroid 2011 GP59 was caught winking at our planet from a distance away barely 10 times that of the moon on Monday night, reports News.com.au.
It was captured by the astronomers at the Observatorio Astronomico de Mallorca in Andalusia, Spain, who have since determined that it is heading towards us.
Since then, the space rock has become something of a darling of the amateur astronomy community.
The ‘winking’ bit which is getting space fans so hot and bothered stems from the fact that the asteroid is cigar-shaped and spinning madly end-to-end, comparatively speaking.
“Usually, when we see an asteroid strobe on and off like that, it means that the body is elongated and we are viewing it broadside along its long axis first, and then on its narrow end as it rotates,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“GP59 is approximately 50m long, and we think its period of rotation is about seven-and-a-half minutes.
"This makes the object’s brightness change every four minutes or so.”
On Friday night, it will miss pass just outside the moon''s orbit - again, at a distance of 533,000 km.
However, Yeomans said there was no need to be concerned.
“Although newly discovered, the near-term orbital location of asteroid 2011 GP59 can be accurately plotted,” he said.
“There is no possibility of the small space rock entering Earth’s atmosphere during this pass or for the foreseeable future.”
2011 GP59 is still five times bigger than an asteroid that exploded 15km above Indonesia in October, 2009.
That blast released as much energy as three atomic bombs, according to New Scientist.
First Published: Friday, April 15, 2011, 14:00