Science Reporting

VLT photographs double asteroid passing near the Earth at 70,000 mph

Using the SPHERE tool of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), a group of researchers from the European Southern Observatory obtained relatively sharp images of 1999 KW4, a double asteroid that approached the Earth recently. The results obtained show that even the VLT can be used in the context of the study of Near-Earth Objects (NEO) and in general in the identification of any dangerous objects approaching the Earth.

In addition, the feat is to be emphasized considering that the double asteroid was speeding at a speed of 70,000 miles per hour, a speed that probably would have made it impossible to take an image with any other terrestrial instrument. Moreover, this double asteroid is very similar to another system of two asteroids called Didymos and Didymoon, which in the future could in fact pose a threat to Earth so much so that NASA is planning to plan a mission to try to correct its orbit.

The researchers studied and photographed 1999 KW4, a double asteroid composed of a larger and a smaller body, which approached Earth at a minimum distance of 5.22 million miles this year. It is a binary asteroid with a total diameter of 1.3 miles, discovered as early as 1999, whose orbit is well known and which could not have posed any danger to our planet.

The researchers used SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch), a particular tool capable of capturing direct images of space bodies very often far away (the researchers are trying to use it to capture direct images of exoplanets) thanks to an advanced adaptive optics system able to correct the turbulence of the Earth’s atmosphere and to provide sharp images like those of space telescopes.