Blogcritics readers will be pleased to know that asteroid 2005 YU55 will be whizzing by on Tuesday afternoon at exactly 6:28 PM Eastern time. This asteroid is well known to the scientific community, and they all concur there is no chance whatever of an impact with the Earth. 2005 YU55 is about a quarter of a mile across, at 1,312 feet, or 400 meters, in diameter. Scientists do mention that if the huge rock were to impact our planet, the resulting crater would be four miles across and 1,700 feet deep. The shock would be roughly 4000 megatons, several times more that the most powerful H-bomb, and could wipe out a city the size of New York or London. It would produce the equivalent of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, and in the event that it struck in the ocean, 70 foot high tsunami waves.
The asteroid, which scientists look forward to studying as it flies by, will be 15 percent closer to us than is the moon, at a distance of 202,000 miles; It will be about 150,000 miles from the moon at the time of the closest approach. As mentioned, astronomers are 100 percent confident that we are not threatened. This information comes from Don Yeomans, the manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program. He goes on to say that scientists have been tracking the “slowly spinning, spherical, dark-colored object” since its discovery in 2005, and are positive it won’t do any damage. Jay Melosh at Purdue says “Both the Earth and the moon are safe; this time.” Scientists will observe the asteroid from California, and Puerto Rico on radar, checking to see if the object is pockmarked with craters, or whether it has water, frozen water, or water bearing minerals.
Amateur skywatchers, unless equipped with a six inch or larger telescope will be disappointed. Even those so equipped will need to know exactly where to look. Don Yeomans, the NASA expert, said that 2005 YU55 is a C-type asteroid, meaning it is carbon based. Yeomans said, “It’s not just a whirling rock like most of them.”
Asteroids of this size come by only once every 100,000 years more or less. Readers recall that the asteroid Apophis, at 885 feet across, with an unknown density, and an unknown mass, will come much closer than 2005 YU55 on April 13, 2029, and closer still, with a remote chance of impact, on Easter Sunday, April 13, 2036. In anticipation of asteroids such as Apophis, our President Barack Obama has ceased the long enduring space shuttle program, and added emphasis to a program aimed at studying Mars and the asteroids. Information derived from the study of this asteroid on Tuesday will be useful if and when it becomes necessary to deflect an incoming Armageddon-style rock.
To quote one final expert, Dr. Robert Massey, of the Royal Astronomical Society, said: “It is an unusually large object for one making a close approach. Even when something of a reasonable size is that close to the Earth the fact that it’s pretty hard to see tells you something about how little warning you have. But the distance between us and the asteroid is still many times the diameter of the Earth, so it doesn’t present any risk to us at all. There really is nothing to worry about.”