Near-Earth asteroid 2020 UA extremely close encounter: a memorable event- 20/21 Oct. 2020
Earlier today, the near-Earth asteroid 2020 UA had a extremely close, but safe, close encounter with our planet, reaching a minimum distance from the Earth of about 46000 km, 12% the average distance of the Moon. We shared it live with our public and captured some amazing images and movies at the fly-by time.
The image above comes from a single, 60-seconds exposure, remotely taken with the “Elena” (PlaneWave 17″+Paramount ME+SBIG STL-6303E) robotic unit available at Virtual Telescope. At the time of the image above, 2020 UA was at its minimum distance from us (46000 km) and the telescope tracked its extremely fast (2300″/minute) apparent motion, this is why stars show as very long trails, while the asteroid looks like a bright and sharp dot of light in the center of the image, marked by an arrow. This image is a superb demonstration of the performances of our robotic system.
We shared live views of this asteroid live with the international audience, capturing some unique imagery. The animation below puts together 78 frames taken back to back, with the telescope still tracking 2020 UA: it shows the asteroid moving 79X faster than in reality. Looking at the time-lapse, it is evident how the object quickly varies in brightness, as it is spinning fast and it has a irregular shape.
We also changed our point of view, asking the telescope to simply track the stars (that is, compensating for the ordinary, rotational motion of the Earth), leaving the asteroid free to travel. We captured six images, with 20 seconds of exposure each: as you see, the resulting trails have a varying brightness, again because the asteroid is quickly rotating.
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This 5.9 – 13 meters large asteroid was discovered by the Mt. Lemmon survey on 16 Oct. 2020 and reached its minimum distance (about 46000 km) from us on 21 Oct. 2020, at 02:04 UTC (source: Nasa/JPL). Of course, there were no risks at all for our planet.
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