The potential threat from space: the Earth flying two new asteroid

Federico Mansilla
Julio 15, 2018

Most binary asteroid systems are composed of one much-larger object and a smaller "moon" locked into its gravity. They each have their own unique structure and properties. After the observations have joined scientists from the Arecibo Observatory and Observatory green Bank, it became clear that the object does not consists of two parts and represents two separate asteroid.

New observations by three of the world's largest radio telescopes have revealed that an asteroid discovered a year ago is actually two objects, each about 3,000 feet (900 meters) in size, orbiting each other. But coming across a binary consisting of two similar-sized objects is much more rare.

On December 21, 2017, the Morocco Oukaimeden Sky Survey revealed its discovery about this asteroid, then thought to be just one.

The first signs showing that 2017 YE5 was a binary asteroid were seen on June 21 and 22, at NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar (GSSR) in California. The new observations took advantage of asteroid's closest approach to Earth, when it flew by about 3.7 million miles (6 million kilometers) away. The effort confirmed the two lobes are separated and orbiting around one another.

Then the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia did something awesome: using a technique called "bi-static radar configuration" Arecibo broadcasted a radar signal to detect 2017 YE5, which Green Bank then received.

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The Arecibo, Goldstone and USRA planetary radar projects are funded through NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program within the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), which manages the Agency's Planetary Defense Program. On June 24, the scientists teamed up with researchers at the Green Bank Observatory (GBO) in West Virginia and used the two observatories together in a bi-static radar configuration (in which Arecibo transmits the radar signal and Green Bank receives the return signal).

Are those twins? That's how astronomers reacted a month ago when they studied an asteroid called 2017 YE5.

Its dual nature wasn't the only unusual attribute to come to light, either.

Asteroids come in different shapes and sizes. However, radar imaging showed that the duo is darker in color and reflects less sunlight than typical asteroids, making it larger than its optical brightness lets on. This indicates that the space rocks are not identical twins, as Space.com puts it, and probably have different densities, surface textures, or even compositions.

The video below discusses 2017 YE5. At the time, scientists didn't know of any physical properties.

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