NASA takes pictures of a strangely long asteroid

Six planetary radar images of the elongated asteroid 2011 AG5.

Six radar observations made of an asteroid swinging by our planet have revealed an unusual oblong rhombus. The object is three times as long as it is wide—an irregular shape, in the case of asteroids.

the asteroid, called 2011 AG5, is about shape and size of the Empire State Building, minus 222 feet aerial of course. The asteroid’s closest approach to Earth occurred on February 3, when it arrived within 1.1 million miles of our planet. (When researchers talk about close approaches, they usually speak relatively.) TThe Webb Space Telescope, by comparison, is about 1 million miles from Earth.

The asteroid was discovered in 2011, but only recently come close enough for scientists to see well. It is about 1,600 feet long and 500 feet wide, and was observed by the Goldstone Solar System Radar at a Deep Space Network facility between January 29 and February 4.

According to the team that discovered and measured the asteroid, it is very long. “Of the 1,040 near-Earth objects observed by planetary radar to date, this is one of the most elongated we’ve seen,” Lance Benner, a principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a agency release.

The team also found that 2011 AG5’s rotation rate is reasonable slowly: it takes nine hours for the object to complete one rotation. The asteroid’s next flyby of Earth will not happen until 2040, when it will pass us at a distance of about 670,000 miles, about three times as distant as the Moon. For now, it continues its 621-day orbit around the Sun.

Near-Earth objects regularly swing past our planet, and NASA is on alert look at them. Last month, an asteroid safely passed by about 2,200 miles above South Americawhich makes it one of the closest documented flyovers of an earthly object.

NASA has recently upgraded its impact monitoring systemwhich can help the agency prepare for any near-Earth object that threatens to become an Earth-touching object. In September, NASA’s DART mission changed path of a small asteroid about 6.8 million miles from Eartha groundbreaking demonstration of of humanity ability to change the movement of objects in space.

The Oblong Asteroid’s last visit gave astronomers an opportunity to better understand the diversity of shapes in space. Most of the space is spheres or platesso it’s always fun to find an outlier.

More: An asteroid is passing Earth today, so scientists are blasting it with radio waves

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