Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Everybody wave to 2010TD54!

One of the nicest thing about the web is the way that it's still being used for freely shared information, particularly among academic and research groups as it was originally designed for.  NASA are one group that are particularly good at producing some really interesting stuff for everybody, from pretty pictures to proper orbital data.

And just sometimes, that orbital data says something a tad out of the ordinary.  This image was generated by a website belonging to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the people who brought you the glorious Cassini-Huygens mission.

The two yellow lines are just there to show where the Sun is, and to give a sense of perspective.  Then you can see the orbit of Mercury looping around it, and Venus, Earth, and the last white line is part of Mars' orbit.

Then there's the blue line.  The dark bit is where it's been, the light blue bit is where it's going.  And yes, it's a bit close to the Earth. 

2010TD54, meet the Earth, and all who sail on her.  Earth, meet 2010TD54, a fairly small asteroid that's about to get a bit intimate.  Feel free to blow a kiss as it whizzes by.

The image, in fact, shows TD54 a bit further out on Oct 11th, the closest approach is around 10:49 GMT (11:49 BST) on Oct 12th.  It's going to be very close in astronomical terms, around about 45,000 km in fact, which is a whisker.  If we ran a rope around the equator twice then it would be long enough to reach.

Don't Panic.  TD54 is only about 6m across.  Its kinetic energy is equivalent to roughly one percent of a megaton of TNT, similar to a very big conventional bomb or a very tiny nuke.  Even if it hit, which it won't, it would be unlikely to do any serious damage; maybe destroy a few houses, but more likely just burn up in the atmosphere.  In fact, it's a significant technical achievement to find and track something that small before it's passed us by.


  1. 2010TD54 will probably merge with the Earth on the next pass. This is very likely a metallic asteroid of 6 meter diameter aand mass 900 tons.
    If a merge event does occur on one of the next encounters - and it will - it will be a dramatic event. Most of the asteroid will be burned up or dispursed in the upper atmosphere; the components
    which make it intact to the ground will be the object of meteorite ccllectors.

  2. Unlikely according to the data - the next significantly close pass is in 2044 (March the 17th to be precise), and it'll be significantly further away, about 130,000 km. You're right though, something like that actually hitting us would put on a very nice light show indeed.