Giant telescopes paired up to help capture near-earth asteroid images
Washington: Using Earth-based radar, NASA scientists have produced sharp views of a recently discovered asteroid as it flew past our planet.
Captured on June 8, 2014, the new views of the object designated "2014 HQ124" are some of the most detailed radar images of a near-Earth asteroid ever obtained.
The radar observations were led by scientists Marina Brozovic and Lance Benner of NASA`s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
The JPL researchers worked closely with Michael Nolan, Patrick Taylor, Ellen Howell and Alessondra Springmann at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to plan and execute the observations.
According to Benner, 2014 HQ124 appears to be an elongated, irregular object that is at least 1,200 feet (370 meters) wide on its long axis.
"This may be a double object, or `contact binary,` consisting of two objects that form a single asteroid with a lobed shape," he said.
The images reveal a wealth of other features, including a puzzling pointy hill near the object`s middle, on top as seen in the images.
The 21 radar images were taken over a span of four-and-a-half hours. During that interval, the asteroid rotated a few degrees per frame, suggesting its rotation period is slightly less than 24 hours.
At its closest approach to Earth on June 8, the asteroid came within 776,000 miles (1.25 million kilometers), or slightly more than three times the distance to the moon.
Scientists began observations of 2014 HQ124 shortly after the closest approach, when the asteroid was between about 864,000 miles and 902,000 miles (1.39 million kilometers and 1.45 million kilometers) from Earth.
Each image in the collage and movie represents 10 minutes of data.
The new views show features as small as about 12 feet (3.75 meters) wide. This is the highest resolution currently possible using scientific radar antennas to produce images. Such sharp views for this asteroid were made possible by linking together two giant radio telescopes to enhance their capabilities.
To obtain the new views, researchers paired the 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, with two other radio telescopes, one at a time.
Using this technique, the Goldstone antenna beams a radar signal at an asteroid and the other antenna receives the reflections. The technique dramatically improves the amount of detail that can be seen in radar images.
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