The Near Earth Asteroid 2002 NY40 was observed with the William Herschel Telescope on La Palma, Canary Islands, on the night of August 17 to 18, 2002. The asteroid was imaged just before its closest approach to Earth, using the Adaptive Optics system NAOMI. These are the first images of a Near Earth Asteroid obtained with an Adaptive Optics system. During these observations the asteroid was 750,000 kilometres away, twice the distance to the Moon, and moving very rapidly across the sky (crossing a distance similar to the diameter of the Moon in 6 minutes or at 65,000 kilometres per hour). Despite the technical difficulties introduced by this, very high quality images were obtained in the near-infrared with a resolution of 0.11 arcseconds. This resolution is close to the theoretical limit of the telescope, and sets an upper limit to the size of the asteroid: only 400 metres across at the time of the observations.
Measuring the size of asteroids helps astronomers understand their nature and formation history as well as the potential threat they pose.
Near Earth Asteroids are a small population of asteroids that periodically approach or intersect the orbit of our planet, and have the possibility of colliding with the Earth as probably happened 65 million years ago, ending the dinosaur era. However, the probability that such an impact could happen is very low and in particular Near Earth Asteroid 2002 NY40 represents no danger to human live on Earth.
Javier MÃ©ndez | AlphaGalileo
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