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Astronomers discover smallest and brightest asteroid; Earth safe from possible collision

First Posted: Dec 06, 2016 12:31 PM EST
Asteroid approaching Earth

Photo : Erik Simonsen

One of the biggest threats to human existence is the collision of so-called near-Earth objects (NEO). NEOs refer to differently-sized rocks roaming around space, with many of which coming from the asteroid belt - an eponymous region situated between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter.

Sometimes they get caught in the Earth's gravity and rush towards the Earth's surface, for which they are referred to as meteors. Keeping in mind of those galactic challenges, astronauts are now looking for space objects that could hit Earth in the not-too-distant future.

Astronomers have recently set a new record by discovering the tiniest asteroid to date - one that's even smaller than a typical small car. A research team from the University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) have discovered this object back in October, while it was passing by the Earth. 

During the close flyby, the tiny asteroid came within 128,000 km of the Earth, which is approximately one-third of the latter's distance from the Moon.

This small asteroid, named 2015 TC25, is only six feet or two meters in length, according to a report from The Astronomical Journal. As well as being small, it spins so fast that it takes only two minutes to complete a 360-degree rotation on its axis and 382 days to orbit the Sun.

This asteroid is also extremely bright that it can reflect approximately 60% of the sunlight falling on its surface. According to researchers, this object contains bright materials like silicates and is deemed similar to the highly-reflective Aubrites meteorite group.  

Dr. Vishnu Reddy, Assistant Professor at University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, said that any probability that the 2015 TC25 and Earth would collide is minuscule. Dr. Reddy used four different telescopes on Earth to monitor this near-Earth asteroid (NEA).

These four telescopes are:

  1. NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, Hawaii
  2. Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico
  3. Magdalena Ridge Observatory, New Mexico
  4. Lowell Observatory/Discovery Channel Telescope, Arizona

"If we can discover and characterize asteroids and meteoroids this small, then we can understand the population of objects from which they originate: large asteroids, which have a much smaller likelihood of impacting Earth," told by Reddy in a statement.

Meanwhile, NEAs are a subset that crosses the Earth's path. So far, over 15,000 asteroids classified as NEOs have been discovered. 

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