Bruce BettsOct 02, 2012

Shoemaker NEO Winner Finds Close Fly By Asteroid

Last week, Planetary Society Shoemaker NEO grant  winner Gary Hug of Kansas, USA discovered the asteroid 2012 SY49 that flew by Earth about 2 lunar distances away later in the week.  He said the discovery was only possible because of the upgraded camera he purchased with the Shoemaker NEO grant.  The asteroid is still on the predication lists for low probability of impact with Earth in many years.  Some of the initial follow-up observations (necessary to refine the orbit) came from fellow Shoemaker NEO grant winner Robert Holmes in Illinois, USA.

NEO discovery images by Shoemaker winner Gary Hug for 2012 SY49
NEO discovery images by Shoemaker winner Gary Hug for 2012 SY49 Images from the discovery of near Earth object 2012 SY49, discovered by Shoemaker NEO grant recipient Gary Hug. The images show the movement of the asteroid (indicated by the arrows) over 45 minutes. The object, temporarily designated by Hug as lb3720, was moving about 2.1 arcseconds per minute at the time of discovery. The object is a very few tens of meters in diameter.Image: Gary Hug

There are 20 possible impacts calculated in the next 70 years or so with a cumulative impact risk of about 1 in 77,000 with the largest chance of impact at 1 in 213,000 in 2048.  Thanks to Hug’s discovery, the orbit can be refined when observations are made during future Earth flybys.  The size of the object is still also being refined, but it is ball park few tens of meters.  If it impacted Earth, that could put it small enough to break up in the atmosphere harmlessly, or big enough to cause Tunguska size damage depending on its exact size.

Gary Hug's Sandlot Observatory
Gary Hug's Sandlot Observatory Sandlot Observatory built and run by Planetary Society Shoemaker NEO grant winner Gary Hug in Kansas, USA. The top of the 22 inch telescope can be seen in this home built "backyard" observatory which also now includes an advanced camera purchased through a 2009 Shoemaker NEO grant.Image: Gary Hug

Hug emailed me, “If I were still using my old Camera before receiving the Planetary Society's Shoemaker NEO Grant, 2012 SY49 would not have been in my field of view. And if no one would have imaged the area again within the few days the object would not have been discovered at all [now only a week later, it has already dimmed beyond the point where even large telescopes would be able to image it]. I was quite lucky to be in the right spot at the right time. Makes you wonder how many more 2012 SY49's there are that are never observed because of the short time they are visible.”

Wonder indeed.  But, obviously, the more qualified observers with advanced equipment there are, the more we’ll find and track.  Consider helping The Planetary Society help observers like Gary Hug find, track and characterize near Earth objects through our Shoemaker NEO grants.  If you missed my blog last week about some of our other Shoemaker NEO observers and the program in general, follow this link.

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