Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Asteroid 2008 WT62 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2008 WT62 passed the Earth at a distance of 17 030 000 km (slightly over 44.3 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon) at about 11.45 pm on Tuesday 26 November 2013. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though were it to do so it would present a realistic threat. 2008 WT62 is considered to be between 45 and 140 m in diameter, and an object towards the upper end of this range could potentially punch straight through the Earth's atmosphere, impacting the ground and creating a crater over 2 km in diameter, as well as widespread devastation and climatic effects that would probably last several years.

The orbit of 2008 WT62. JPL Small Body Database Browser.

2008 WT62 was discovered on 24 November 2008 by the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon Survey at the Steward Observatory on Mount Lemmon in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2008 WT62 implies that the asteroid was the 1569th object discovered in the second half  of November 2013 (period 2008 W). 

2008 WT62 has a 303 day orbital period, with an elliptical orbit tilted at an angle to the plain of the Solar System which takes in to 0.57 AU from the Sun (57% of the distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, considerably inside the orbit of the planet Venus) and out to 1.20 AU (20% further away from the Sun than the Earth). This means that close encounters between the asteroid and Earth are fairly common, with the last thought to have happened in  May this year and the next predicted in September 2016. Although 2013 does cross the Earth's orbit and is briefly further from the Sun on each cycle, 2008 WT62 spends most of its time closer to the Sun than we are, and is therefore classified as an Aten Group Asteroid.

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