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Astronomers Find Near-Earth Encounters Leave Asteroids Pale
by Staff Writers
Manoa HI (SPX) Jan 28, 2010


Image credit and copyright: Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Humans may be justifiably nervous when an asteroid passes very close to Earth, but a new study has found that the encounter leaves the asteroid pale and shaken as well.

UH Manoa astronomers Schelte Bus and Alan Tokunaga are members of an international team who set out to understand why some asteroids have colors different from those of others.

In particular, they wanted to know why is it that most asteroids have a comparatively dark surface-the result of slow weathering by interplanetary sunlight-but others have a paler color characteristic of fresh, unweathered rocks?

By looking very carefully at the various asteroids' orbits around the sun, the team noticed that all those with pale colors had passed very close to Earth, while those with dark colors had not.

How can a near-miss with Earth affect an asteroid's color?

"We now suspect that most asteroids are loose conglomerations of rocks and boulders, rather than strong, monolithic objects," said astronomer Bus.

"When one of these rock piles passes close to Earth, it is shaken by the rapidly changing pull of Earth's gravity. Landslides on the asteroid cause the dark weathered areas to be covered by fresh, lighter colored rocks. Hence the asteroid's color, after the encounter, will appear paler than before."

"The more we can learn about what holds an asteroid together, the better chance we have to reduce or eliminate damage to Earth," added Tokunaga.

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Related Links
UH Manoa
Asteroid and Comet Mission News, Science and Technology






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IRON AND ICE
The First Of Many Asteroid Finds For WISE
Pasadena CA (JPL) Jan 25, 2010
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has spotted its first never-before-seen near-Earth asteroid, the first of hundreds it is expected to find during its mission to map the whole sky in infrared light. The near-Earth object, designated 2010 AB78, was discovered by WISE Jan. 12. After the mission's sophisticated software picked out the moving object against a background of s ... read more


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