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Surprising Science

Asteroid to Give Earth a Buzz Cut

An asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier will come closer to Earth this autumn than our own moon does, causing scientists to hold their breath (with excitement, not worry) as it zooms by.

What’s the Latest Development?

When the quarter-mile-wide asteroid 2005 YU55 zooms past Earth on November 8 and 9, scientists say there is no chance of a collision—not now or for the next 100 years, according to N.A.S.A. But scientists are expecting our Earthly instruments to get a good look at the passing rock. “While near-Earth objects of this size have flown within a lunar distance in the past, we did not have the foreknowledge and technology to take advantage of the opportunity,” said Barbara Wilson a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.  

What’s the Big Idea?

Along with N.A.S.A., President Obama has signaled a manned asteroid landing as a possible future space mission. Discovered in 2005 by the Spacewatch program at the University of Arizona in Tucson, asteroid 2005 YU55 provides a rare opportunity for scientists to look far back into the past of our solar system. “This is a C-type asteroid, and those are thought to be representative of the primordial materials from which our solar system was formed,” Wilson said. “This flyby will be an excellent opportunity to test how we study, document and quantify which asteroids would be most appropriate for a future human mission.”


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