The new hype in our community: 2010AL30, a 10-60m asteroid will be passing at 1/3 the distance Earth-Moon on Jan 13. Interestingly because its period is 1 year, like Earth, it was suggested that it could be a man made object.
As mentioned by my colleague Alan Harris on the MPML list ” its orbit doesn’t resemble any useful spacecraft trajectory, and its encounter velocity with the Earth is not unusually low, around 9.5 km/sec “v_infinity”. Perfectly ordinary Earth-crossing orbit.”
Interestingly shortly after the announcement of the discovery which was made from LINEAR observations (MPEC 2010-A59 issued on Jan 11 at 15:43), several amateur and professional astronomers around the world observed this target to help refining its orbit. Based on these astrometric positions (positions in the sky reported by these observers), two groups one based at Harvard University (MPEC) and one in Italy (NEODys) refined the orbit of the asteroid. They confirmed that the semi-major axis is very close to 1 but the eccentricity significantly high (e~0.3).
Lance Benner, astronomer at JPL, also mentioned that they will schedule time at Goldstone for radar observations of this interesting target early on January 13. Using the refined orbit, they should be able to point accurately the antenna toward this target. It will definitely help revealing its true nature. Is this a man made object, a unique asteroid, a binary one? Make your bets!
Interestingly this kind of study illustrates the efficiency of our impact alarm system. 2010AL30 was detected 2 days before its close approach to Earth. If it was an Earth impactor, it would have been enough to warn the inhabitants of this area of our planet. This is particularly true since because of its relatively small (~10-60m) size, it will most likely blow up in the upper atmosphere, so only small fragments will reach the surface.
So don’t forget to make your bet in the comments. In my case I am all for a binary asteroid 🙂 surprising no?