NASA Detects Binary Asteroid System and Close Earth Approach of Another Asteroid

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California have been busy tracking asteroids. Recently, they observed two asteroids, 2024 MK and 2011 UL21, safely passing Earth. The observation of 2011 UL21 revealed an intriguing discovery – it turned out to be a binary system, meaning it has a smaller asteroid, or moonlet, orbiting it.

On June 27, 2011 UL21 passed Earth at a distance of 4.1 million miles (6.6 million km), almost 17 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. This asteroid, discovered in 2011 by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Arizona, was further studied using the Goldstone Solar System Radar, known as Deep Space Station 14 (DSS-14) near Barstow, California. The radar observations revealed that the asteroid is approximately spherical and forms this binary system with the moonlet orbiting it at a distance of about 1.9 miles.

The discovery of this binary system is significant, according to JPL scientists. It is estimated that roughly two-thirds of asteroids of similar size are binary systems. Observing these systems provides valuable data about their mutual orbits, masses, and densities, offering insights into their formation.

The other asteroid, 2024 MK, was discovered only 13 days before its close approach to Earth. On June 29, the same group of scientists observed this asteroid passing Earth at a distance of just 184,000 miles (295,000 kilometers), a little more than three-quarters of the distance between the Moon and Earth. This close approach presented a unique opportunity for detailed observations and analysis of the asteroid’s physical properties.

The initial identification of asteroid 2024 MK was made on June 16 by the NASA-funded Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) at the Sutherland Observation Station in South Africa.

These observations highlight the ongoing efforts by NASA and its scientists to track and study near-Earth objects, contributing to our understanding of the solar system and potential threats from space.

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