*Signs In The Sun, The Moon and The Stars
Big Asteroid closes in on Earth *
* From: AFP
* November 09, 2011 1:06AM
A BIG asteroid is set to make its closest flyby of Earth in 200 years,
but there is no chance of a crash landing when it zips by our planet,
Astronomers have aimed their telescopes to catch a glimpse of the 2005
YU55 asteroid, which will not be visible to the naked eye, when it makes
its closest approach to Earth at 10.28pm (AEDT) today.
The 400-metre-wide asteroid often travels in the vicinity of the Earth,
Mars and Venus, but "the 2011 encounter with Earth is the closest it has
come for at least the last 200 years", the US space agency said.
Other asteroids of this size pass by Earth more frequently, though the
last such event happened in 1976 and the next will not happen again
until 2028 when as asteroid called 2001 WN5 will skim about halfway
between the Moon and Earth.
This asteroid is expected to pass a bit further away; about 0.85 times
the distance of the Moon to the Earth, or a distance of 325,000 kilometres.
"2005 YU55 is one of the potentially hazardous asteroids that make close
approaches from time to time because their orbits either approach or
intersect the orbit of the Earth," said Robert McMillan, an associate
research scientist at the University of Arizona.
McMillan discovered the asteroid in 2005 as part of the university's
Spacewatch Project, a solar-system-scanning group of scientists near
However, astronomers know from analysing the trajectory of the asteroid
that it will not hit Earth this time.
The asteroid's next closest pass is set to take place in 2094, at a
distance of 269,000 kilometres, according to forecasts.
"The observations will give us a piece of the puzzle, one we don't get
many chances to see," said Don Yeomans of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
"At one time, we thought these were the asteroids that delivered carbon
and other elements to the early Earth, so they are pretty important."
NASA said radar observations from the Arecibo Planetary Radar Facility
in Puerto Rico have already begun as the asteroid closes in on its approach.
While the charcoal-coloured, circular asteroid's visit has scientists
excited for the chance to get a closer look, most Earthlings probably
will not notice a thing.
"The gravitational influence of the asteroid will have no detectable
effect on Earth, including tides and tectonic plates," NASA said.