On Tuesday, asteroid 2005 YU55 will pass the Earth within the moon’s orbit, giving scientists a unique, close-up view of a space rock.
On November 8, 2005 YU55 will come within about 201,700 miles of Earth, according to NASA. That’s 0.85 the distance from Earth to the moon.
Asteroids pass this close fairly frequently, but they’re usually too small to speak of.
YU55, though, is 1,300 feet wide, or about the size of an aircraft carrier. The last time an asteroid this big passed by Earth was way back in 1976. The next one that we know of will be in 2028, according to NASA.
Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California, says this near miss will be a chance to learn more about c-type (or carbon-based) asteroids in case one ever threatens to hit us.
It will also offer “clues as to what it was like when our solar system was forming,” Yeomans said.
Asteroids such as 2005 YU55 often delivered organic, carbon-based materials to Earth in our past, enabling life.
“Without objects of this type, we probably wouldn’t be here,” he said.
C-type asteroids could also be resources for future space exploration due to the fact that they frequently hold water resources and the compound that constitutes jet fuel. They could help us build “fueling stations and watering holes for interplanetary travel,” Yeomans said.
Asteroid 2005 YU55 is nearly round, spinning slowly, and is darker than charcoal, according to NASA radar observations.
You may be able to catch a peek at it if you have a reflecting telescope with a light-gathering mirror six inches or more in diameter.
- FAQ: The Nov. 8 Flyby of Huge Asteroid 2005 YU55 Explained (space.com)
- Astronomers gear up for asteroid fly-by (nature.com)
- Asteroid to Narrowly Miss Earth (abcnews.go.com)