Friday 15 June 2012

Asteroid 2012 LZ1 flies by the Earth.

Asteroid 2012 LZ1 is a 500 m rocky asteroid on a near-Earth orbit; it was discovered on the night of 10-11 June 2012 by a team of scientists led by Rob McNaught using the Uppsala Schmidt Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, showing that such objects can still occasionally surprise us. On the night of 14 June it flew by the Earth at a distance of 5.3 million km (for comparison, the moon orbits the Earth at a distance of slightly under 400 000 km).

The  orbit of 2012 LZ1 as it passes the Earth. NASA/JPL.

Seen from Earth this was a magnitude +13 object; too faint to be seen by the naked eye, or the home equipment of all but the best equipped amateur astronomers. To give a rough idea how this works, visible stars have magnitudes between +1 and +5, the planets can reach magnitudes of -5, and the Moon has a magnitude of -13. Amateur astronomers armed with binoculars or small telescopes can typically see objects with magnitudes of up to +10, but beyond this more specialized equipment needs to be used.

The passing of 2012 LZ1 was, however, observed by a number of larger observatories, many of which have made their images available to the public. The Slooh Space Camera in the Canary Islands even broadcast the event online live. 

Motion of 2012 LZ1 as observed by the Remanzacco Observatory in Italy. 

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