Washington: NASA`s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) probe has found a never-before-seen asteroid - its first such discovery since it was brought out of hibernation last year.
NEOWISE`s first discovery of its renewed mission came on December 29 -- a near-Earth asteroid designated 2013 YP139. The mission`s sophisticated software picked out the moving object against a background of stationary stars.
As NEOWISE circled Earth scanning the sky, it observed the asteroid several times over half a day before the object moved beyond its view.
NASA expects 2013 YP139 will be the first of hundreds of asteroid discoveries for NEOWISE.
2013 YP139 is about 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) from Earth. Based on its infra-red brightness, scientists estimate it to be roughly 0.4 miles (650 meters) in diameter and extremely dark, like a piece of coal.
The asteroid circles the sun in an elliptical orbit tilted to the plane of our solar system and is classified as potentially hazardous. It is possible for its orbit to bring it as close as 300,000 miles from Earth, a little more than the distance to the moon. However, it will not come that close within the next century.
WISE discovered more than 34,000 asteroids and characterized 158,000 throughout the solar system during its prime mission in 2010 and early 2011. Its reactivation in September followed 31 months in hibernation.