To date, the U.S. assets have uncovered approximately 98 percent of the known near-Earth objects. However, the recently captured images of the huge near-miss asteroid “The Beast” by NASA are among the most detailed radar views of an asteroid ever captured. The Beast skimmed past Earth on Sunday at a relatively close distance to the Earth’s atmosphere—777,000 miles of our planet’s atmosphere or about three times farther than the Moon.
Lesser known by the official name “2014 HQ124” the asteroid was discovered by the NEOWISE mission of NASA, a space telescope adapted for scouting the skies for asteroids and comets. The trek of the celestial body in buzz traveling at a speed of 31,000 mph relative to the Earth was broadcast live via the Slooh Space Camera. The asteroid flew by without posing any danger to our planet.
To create new images of “The Beast,” researchers bounced radio signals at the asteroid from NASA’s DSS-14 antenna at Goldstone, Cali. The data, in addition to the photos snapped by the giant William E. Gordon Telescope located at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, resulted in some of the most detailed, highest-resolution images ever recorded of a near-Earth asteroid. Over a span of 4.5 hours, 21 radar images were taken. During that interval, the asteroid rotated a few degrees per frame, suggesting that its rotation period is slightly less than 24 hours.
The resulting images depicted features as small as 12 feet (3.75 meters) width of the asteroid and indicated that the celestial body could be made out of two lobes fused together. “By itself, the Goldstone antenna can obtain images that show features as small as the width of a traffic lane on the highway,” said Lance Benner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “With Arecibo now able to receive our highest-resolution Goldstone signals, we can create a single system that improves the overall quality of the images.”