Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday Dispatch: Three Views of the Asteroid that Barely Missed Us

Every story I saw about the bus-sized asteroid that missed hitting the Earth yesterday by only 7,500 miles put the reassuring stuff in sentence two, after sentence one had already caused me Lower GI trouble: The 30-foot-long asteroid would not hit, said reports leading up to the fly-by, and even if it did, no worries, because scientists don't consider asteroids to be hazardous unless they're bigger than 490 in width. In any event, I wanted to see pictures of this thing, which came close enough to be viewed with a small telescope. (See Point 1, below.) Not much was available, so news orgs got creative with visual concepts used to describe what was happening:

1. First Sighting

It's not much to look at, if you're expecting to see a hellish rock like the one in Armageddon. This image, one of the first taken of Asteroid 2011 MD, was taken by Peter Lake, an amateur astronomer from Australia. The shot was taken with a 20-inch telescope in New Mexico, which Lake could control with his iPhone through the Rent-A-Scope program.

2. The Composite

This image is actually made up of three separate sightings of the asteroid as seen in different wavelengths of light--red, blue, and green--by Australia's Faulkes Telescope South. Not much, but red, blue, and green are better than nothing.

3.The Bigger Picture

Photographic imagery having largely failed to tell the story in satisfyingly terrible detail, the nerds at Wired.com went with a screen shot from the Asteroids video arcade game, which they, I me, have probably spent too much time playing. This would a an example of whistling past the graveyard.

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