|Graduate student tracks space object|
Space studies graduate student and asteroid hunter Vishnu Reddy recently tracked a space object blasting through near-Earth space at 60 arc seconds per minute. In race track terms, thats 37,000 miles per hour, or more than twice as fast as Space Shuttles average orbit velocity.
We were looking at it because it flew by just about as close as the Moon is, so it was potentially hazardous to Earth, said Reddy, who, though still in grad school, has already named several asteroids and is well-regarded in near-Earth object tracking circles.
Reddy and UND space studies faculty Mike Gaffey and Paul Hardersen, both respected astronomical observers, observed the asteroid-dubbed object 2004 X-14-using the 3-meter telescope at the National Aeronautics and Space Administrations (NASAs) Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) located atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
This was the first time UND planetary scientists remotely observed an asteroid through the NASA IRTF via the Internet, Reddy noted.
The UND scientists downloaded and analyzed data to answer key questions about the asteroid, including its velocity, its dimensions and mass, and its composition. Using a special technique developed by UND space studies alum Paul Abell, now at NASAs Johnson Space Center, Reddy has defined the diameter of the object at 250 to 300, a number thats close to JPL astronomer Lance Benners radar-acquired estimate of 260.
The UND team also defined the asteroids composition: either nickel-iron metal or enstatite, a magnesium silicate commonly defined as a pyroxene mineral.
We tracked the asteroid in real time, which was truly exciting for us, and came real close to the radar measurements made at JPL, said Reddy, who is quoted in the latest issue of the journal Nature about this project (see http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v442/n7105/full/442855a.html ).
The results obtained by the UND and JPL observers will be presented to the scientific community at the American Astronomical Societys Division of Planetary Sciences Meeting at Pasadena in October.
We should note that 2004 XP14 does not pose an impact threat to the Earth in the next 100 years, based on its current orbital information, Reddy says.