DEC 28, 2017 6:31 AM PST

Arecibo Observatory Snags Beauty Shot of a Near-Earth Asteroid

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Astronomers often use the Earth-based Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to study objects in space, but September’s Hurricane Maria caused a bit of turbulence for scheduled observations.

Citing NASA, diesel-powered generators allowed the Arecibo Observatory’s telescopes to resume operations mere days after the storm’s passing. But local power shortages made it impossible to utilize the observatory’s powerful radar systems until the power grid came back online.

These radar images show a PHA known as 3200 Phaethon from 6.4 million miles away.

Image Credit: Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF

Thankfully, things have normalized at the Arecibo Observatory as of late, and astronomers managed to use the robust radar system earlier in December to peek at a massive near-Earth object (NEO) dubbed 3200 Phaethon.

The image of 3200 Phaethon above exhibits a resolution of around 250 feet per pixel, and it’s clear enough to discern crucial details on the NEO’s surface. Among those are a significant concavity close to the equator and a dark spot residing near one of its poles.

"These new observations of Phaethon show it may be similar in shape to asteroid Bennu, the target of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, but more than 1,000 Bennus could fit inside of Phaethon," said Patrick Taylor, a Universities Space Research Association (USRA), Columbia, Maryland, scientist and group leader for Planetary Radar at Arecibo Observatory.

"The dark feature could be a crater or some other topographic depression that did not reflect the radar beam back to Earth."

Related: Concerning asteroid collision, size does matter

When astronomers spied on 3200 Phaethon, it was about 6.4 million miles away from Earth (equivalent to approximately 27 lunar distances). Furthermore, recent measurements revealed how 3200 Phaethon is more massive than initially thought – 3.6 miles across rather than 3.0 miles across.

Given its size and proximity to Earth, astronomers also classify 3200 Phaethon as a potentially-hazardous asteroid (PHA). The last time 3200 Phaethon came near our planet was back in 1974, and it won’t tango with Earth again until 2093.

Astronomers like to use these close calls to study PHAs up close, and radar is a great way to do that. It just so happens that the Arecibo Observatory has the world’s most robust planetary radar system, and it’s perfect for studying space rocks’ characteristics like size, shape, rotation, and surface features, among other things.

Tracking and understanding potentially-hazardous asteroids’ movements and features could potentially help us find ways to protect Earth from future impacts. After all, both FEMA and NASA seem to share a common interest in that regard.

Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
OCT 07, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Earth-Sized Rogue Planet Found Drifting Through Our Galaxy
OCT 07, 2020
Earth-Sized Rogue Planet Found Drifting Through Our Galaxy
A team of astronomers has found a lone planet the size of Earth drifting through the Milky Way. Known as a ‘rogue ...
NOV 06, 2020
Space & Astronomy
300 Million Planets in the Milky Way May Be Habitable
NOV 06, 2020
300 Million Planets in the Milky Way May Be Habitable
Researchers have found that there could be at least 300 million habitable worlds in the Milky Way galaxy. This could mea ...
NOV 13, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Researchers Observe the Birth of a Magnetar
NOV 13, 2020
Researchers Observe the Birth of a Magnetar
Scientists think they have witnessed the birth of a magnetar for the first time, when a massive burst of gamma rays took ...
DEC 19, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Advanced Chemistry Module to Aid Future Mars Exploration
DEC 19, 2020
Advanced Chemistry Module to Aid Future Mars Exploration
Despite its resemblance to Earth, Mars, our planetary neighbor, is not exactly a friendly environment for human explorer ...
JAN 05, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Could Earth's Microbes Help Us Find Extraterrestrial Life?
JAN 05, 2021
Could Earth's Microbes Help Us Find Extraterrestrial Life?
As scientists are learning more about microbes existing in the higher echelons of the Earth's atmosphere, they are b ...
JAN 29, 2021
Space & Astronomy
The Potential Range of Mass of Dark Matter Narrows Dramatically
JAN 29, 2021
The Potential Range of Mass of Dark Matter Narrows Dramatically
The part of the universe that we can see, which includes our planet and stars, makes up only around a quarter of the mas ...
Loading Comments...