NASA's telescope spies near-Earth asteroid
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has spotted its first never-before-seen near-Earth asteroid, the first of hundreds it is expected to find during its mission to map the whole sky in infrared light, Xinhua reported.
But there is no danger of the newly discovered asteroid hitting Earth, NASA said Monday in a statement.
The near-Earth object, designated 2010 AB78, was discovered by WISE on Jan. 12. The mission's sophisticated software picked out the moving object against a background of stationary stars.
As WISE circled Earth, scanning the sky above, it observed the asteroid several times during a period of one-and-a-half days before the object moved beyond its view. Researchers then used the University of Hawaii's 2.2-meter (88-inch) visible-light telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea to follow up and confirm the discovery.
The asteroid is currently about 158 million km from Earth. It is estimated to be roughly 1 km in diameter and circles the sun in an elliptical orbit tilted to the plane of our solar system.
The object comes as close to the sun as Earth, but because of its tilted orbit, it will not pass very close to Earth for many centuries. This asteroid does not pose any foreseeable impact threat to Earth, but scientists will continue to monitor it.
Near-Earth objects are asteroids and comets with orbits that pass relatively close to Earth's path around the sun. In extremely rare cases of an impact, the objects may cause damage to Earth's surface.
An asteroid about 10 km wide is thought to have plunged into our planet 65 million years ago, triggering a global disaster and killing off the dinosaurs.
On Jan. 14, the WISE mission began its official survey of the entire sky in infrared light, one month after it rocketed into a polar orbit around Earth from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
WISE is expected to find about 100,000 previously unknown asteroids in our main asteroid belt, a rocky ring of debris between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It will also spot hundreds of previously unseen near-Earth objects.