The year 2015 seems to have another festive surprise in store for astronomy lovers across the globe. After the Halloween asteroid's close flyby in October, another object will pass by our planet on Christmas Eve. Asteroid 2003 SD220 will fly by Earth at a safe distance on December 24, 2015 and will be visible only to professional or advanced amateur astronomers.
Asteroid 2003 SD220 will make its closest approach to Earth at 13:08 UTC on December 24, 2015 at approximately 11 million km (6.8 million miles) which is 28 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
Image credit: Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF
The asteroid was discovered on September 29, 2003 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search (LONEOS) program in Flagstaff, Arizona.
The object will unfortunately not be easy to see unless you have professional telescope equipment: "Only professional and advanced amateur astronomers are likely to capture optical images of this space rock," astronomer Eddie Irizarry said.
These images of an asteroid 1 100 m (3 600 feet) long were taken on December 17 (left) and December 22 by scientists using NASA's giant Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR
NASA's scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California have obtained high-resolution images of the asteroid between December 17 and 22 thus providing the astronomers with an early Christmas gift. The images have been generated by the Deep Space Network's 70-meter (230 foot) antenna at Goldstone in California. At the time, the object was observed at a distance of about 12 million km (7.3 million miles).
Radar observation techniques have already been used to observe over hundreds of asteroids and study their size, shape, rotation, surface features, orbit parameters and roughness.
2003 SD220 is at least 1 100 m (3 600 feet) long and highly elongated, said Lance Benner of JPL the leader of NASA's asteroid radar research program: "The data acquired during this pass of the asteroid will help us plan for radar imaging during its upcoming closer approach in 2018."
Asteroid 2003 SD220 orbit. Image credit: NASA
The relative speed of the object at its closest approach was estimated at 7.84 km/s (4.87 miles/s) while its absolute magnitude is 16.9. The eccentricity of the asteroid is 0.2 which indicates an elliptical orbit. Its rotation is very slow with a period of approximately one week.
There is no cause for any concern, as the closest flyby distance of the asteroid will be about 28 times the distance between Earth and the Moon, Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near Earth Object (NEO) Studies at JPL explained.
Asteroid 2003 SD220 will safely fly past our planet once again in 2018, this time closer, at the distance of approximately 2.8 million km (1.8 million miles). This particular flyby will see the closest approach to Earth until 2070 when it will fly pass it at a distance of about 2.7 million km (1.7 million miles).
Astronomy lovers, enjoy your Christmas!
Featured image credit: Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF