Close Encounter: Huge Asteroid 2005 YU55 to Pass Near Earth on Nov. 8

A huge asteroid, named 2005 YU55, will pass closer to Earth next week, on Nov. 8.

A huge asteroid about the size of an aircraft carrier will zoom past our planet next week, flying between the Earth and the orbit of the moon when it flies by on Tuesday, November 8, 2011. Photo: Beherit Open/Flickr

Asteroids don’t get much attention compared to planets and stars. They don’t have the same flashy features, such as Jupiter’s red spot or Saturn’s rings. Nevertheless, asteroids, as well as comets, are the only celestial objects that can hit our planet. And they have hit us many times in the past, sometimes with life-changing results.

“The best time to observe it would be in the early evening on November 8 from the East Coast of the United States,” experts said. “It is going to be very faint, even at its closest approach. You will need a decent-sized telescope to be able to actually see the object as it flies by.”

A sizeable 400-metre-wide asteroid will graze past the Earth, closer than the moon. The moon will be just under 150,000 miles from the asteroid at the time of closest approach. The space rock sails about 201,000 miles from the planet. It’s a pretty close by cosmic standards, but it won’t hit us.

“There is no chance that this object will collide with the Earth or moon,” Don Yeomans, the manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program office, said.

The asteroid named can be watched by ground antennas as it approaches from the direction of the sun. It’s one of hundreds of Near Earth Asteroids that swarm around the Sun, crossing the orbit of the Earth.

The last time it came within such a shouting distance was 200 years ago.

“It is the first time since 1976 that an object of this size has passed this closely to the Earth. It gives us a great – and rare – chance to study a near-Earth object like this,” astronomer Scott Fisher, a program director with the National Science Foundation.

According to Scientific American ,an asteroid this size is larger than an aircraft carrier. It would cause widespread damage if it were to hit Earth.

Jay Melosh, a professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Purdue University, said that the asteroid would create a four-mile wide crater 1,700 feet deep. It could cause 70-foot tsunami waves and shake the ground like a magnitude-7 earthquake.

Scientists have been tracking the asteroid since its discovery in 2005, and are positive it won’t do any damage. “We know the orbit of this object very well,” experts said.

The largest asteroid hit the Earth struck the Yucatan 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs. That object was about 10 kilometres in diameter.

We are able to change our planet’s future evolution by preventing such disasters. If we see an asteroid heading our way soon enough, we can hopefully nudge it out of harm’s way.

It wouldn’t take much – just a slight push to steer it away from a collision course.  The Earth is actually a pretty small target for something approaching from millions of kilometres away.

Nowadays technologies allow us to see the asteroid’s path for the next 100 years. As for 2005 YU55, there is no chance it will hit Earth during that time.

“We do not think that it will ever impact the Earth or moon (but) we only have its orbit calculated for the next 100 years,” said senior research scientist Don Yeomans, with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. [Via Huff Post, CBCNews and Chicago Sun-Times]

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