By Caroline N. Keyser, Fort Irwin Public AffairsNovember 23, 2011
FORT IRWIN, Calif. (Nov. 17, 2011) -- NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Network facility is playing a key role in tracking an asteroid that approached Earth last week.
The facility, located within Fort Irwin's gates, is one of three Deep Space Network locations around the world, which use large-scale radio antennas to constantly track satellites, spacecraft and other space objects. From Nov. 4 through today, that included asteroid 2005 YU55, an aircraft carrier-sized object that passed within 201,700 miles of Earth Nov. 8, putting it closer than the moon's orbit.
The asteroid is of particular interest to scientists because it is the closest that such a large space rock has come to the planet since 1976, and because the next known flyby of a comparably-sized space rock won't occur until 2028.
Lance Benner, principal scientist investigating the asteroid, said Nov. 7 that observations had been going extremely well. Scientists at Goldstone have spent a minimum of four hours each day tracking the asteroid, and Benner said that thanks to data they've collected, the asteroid's trajectory can be accurately predicted for the next 64 years.
Using Goldstone's 70-meter-diameter Mars antenna, scientists have been bouncing radio waves off the asteroid, allowing them to see its surface in greater detail and to reconstruct its three-dimensional shape.
To mark the occasion, officials at Goldstone and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena invited members of the media to Goldstone to learn about the asteroid and the facility's role in tracking it. Representatives from outlets including CNN, NBC News, Los Angeles Times and KABC and KCAL television stations came to Goldstone Nov. 7.
"We wanted to bring the media out here because this is really a unique opportunity, and we appreciate all the interest in the asteroid," said D.C. Agle, JPL's media relations specialist for inner solar system events. "The team at Goldstone does great work and we're glad to have the opportunity to highlight that."