NASA Provides Images of Nearby Asteroid HQ124

First Posted: Jun 16, 2014 01:39 PM EDT

Asteroid HQ124 was discovered only six weeks ago, but NASA researchers have wasted no time in finding out more about it. They bounced radio signals off of the giant planetoid and received the most detailed radar views ever.

Lance Benner and colleagues at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, were able to reveal the size and texture of the nearby asteroid. It's at least 1,200 feet wide and resembles a disfigured bowling pin or a chicken drumstick. They were able to receive such images because HQ124 came within 777,000 miles of Earth - the closest it has been since its discovery.

Nicknamed "The Beast", HQ124 traveled safely past Earth at a speed of 31,000 miles per hour. Through the use of the 230-foot Deep Space Network (DSN) antenna in Goldstone, California and with the help of two other pieces of technology - a small 112-foot antenna 20 miles from the DSN and the 1,000-foot Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico - the scientists were able to effectively bounce radio signals off of HQ124 and receive the detailed images.

"By itself, the Goldstone antenna can obtain images that show features as small as the width of a traffic lane on the highway," said Benner in this Huffington Post article. "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."

The radar data of the asteroid was taken for over four hours on June 8. The combination of the DSN antenna and the Arecibo radio telescope allowed the researchers to collect higher quality data, providing more detailed images. This is likely to revolutionize the way scientists look at asteroids and other planetary bodies. The researchers at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico worked closely with the JPL researchers to acquire the first-of-its-kind imagery.

Arecibo provided imagery 30 times brighter than what the DSN produced by itself. This new combination of technologies will help further portray the size, shape, rotation, surface features, and orbits of various objects in space. The DSN beams a radar signal at the asteroid and the 112-foot antenna along with the Arecibo telescope receive the reflections.

The researchers hope to find out more about what's in outer space with the new detail-oriented technology.

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