Scientists Observe Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Buzz Past Earth With Its Own Moon

Meghan Bartels writes via One of Earth’s premier
instruments for studying nearby asteroids is back to work after
being rattled by earthquakes, and its first new observations show
that a newly discovered space rock is actually two separate
asteroids. The instrument is the planetary radar system at the
Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The observatory was closed for
most of January, after a series of earthquakes hit the island
beginning on Dec. 28, 2019. The observatory reopened on Jan. 29.
Meanwhile, on Jan. 27, scientists using a telescope on Mauna Loa in
Hawaii spotted an asteroid that astronomers hadn’t seen before. The
team dubbed the newfound space rock 2020 BX12 based on a formula
recognizing its discovery date. Because of the size of 2020 BX12
and the way its orbit approaches that of Earth, it is designated a
potentially hazardous asteroid. However, the space rock has already
come as close to Earth as it will during this pass (2.7 million
miles or 4.3 million kilometers); astronomers have calculated the
asteroid’s close approaches with Earth for the next century, and
all will be at a greater distance than this one was. […] Based on
the observations, the scientists discovered that 2020 BX12 is a
binary asteroid, with a smaller rock orbiting the larger rock.
About 15% of larger asteroids turn out, on closer inspection, to be
binary, according to NASA. The larger rock is likely at least 540
feet (165 meters) across, and the smaller one is about 230 feet (70
m) wide, according to the observations gathered by Arecibo. When
the instrument observed the two space rocks on Feb. 5, they
appeared to be separated by about 1,200 feet (360 m).

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Scientists Observe Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Buzz Past Earth With Its Own Moon