Giant Asteroid Slid by for NASA Photo-op
Photo from NASA The asteroid was ready for its closeup, obviously.
Lots of asteroids zoom by the planet over the course of the year (that's why NASA actually tracks and counts all the ones it can find) but one of those asteroids zipped by Earth recently, and this time NASA scientists were ready. Yep, 2014 HQ124 was more ready for its closeup than Norma Desmond at the end of Sunset Boulevard and NASA scientists managed to capture some of the sharpest radar images of a near-Earth asteroid ever shot, according to the NASA people themselves.
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California tracked the 1,200-foot-wide asteroid as it passed 776,000 miles away from the planet last week. Then they used radar to capture 21 images as the asteroid flew past. This may not sound terribly impressive, but it's actually quite a feat, especially since the Near-Earth Object Program Office (aka "Spaceguard" aka "the people who watch out for large incoming objects that might hit our planet") just started tracking this thing in late April.
Each image captured represents 10 minutes of data and was collected by pairing a giant telescope in California, a smaller one about 20 miles away with another telescope in Puerto Rico. The scientists collected data for more than four hours to put together the final images. That may not sound terribly impressive, but keep in mind they were taking pictures of a chunk of spinning rock as it passed just, you know, more than 700,000 miles away.