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Scientists Obtain Highest-Resolution Views Ever of a Near-Earth Asteroid

Radar telescopes have helped scientists to obtain sharp views of the asteroid 2014 HQ124 that passed by earth from a three times distance between the moon and earth. Although the distance was safe, but it was still a matter of concern for scientists as the object is bigger than an aircraft carrier and was traveling in the direction of earth at a relative velocity of 31,000 mph.

It was really a feat for astronomers to be able to obtain some of the best images yet of any passing asteroid. Radar telescopes located thousands of miles apart have played a major role in allowing the scientists to expand their limits.

HQ124 made its closest approach to earth on June 8, but scientists nicknamed it as 'The Beast' well in advance. However, after looking the asteroid in the radar observations, it appeared as a beauty, not a beast, said Alessondra Springmann, a data analyst at Arecibo Observatory, home of the 305-meter William E. Gordon Telescope.

The shape of the asteroid is similar to a peanut. JPL astronomers got a significant help from the observation capabilities of NASA's 70-meter DSS-14 antenna at Goldstone, California. They paired those with the observations of the enormous 305-meter dish at Arecibo, and then later with a smaller 34-meter antenna in California. And what they finally got was some of the highest-resolution views ever of a near-Earth asteroid.

"Using multiple telescopes to track the motion of an asteroid's radar echo across the Earth, we can determine its rotation independently of radar imaging. This resolves ambiguities in the radar images and is essential for long-term trajectory prediction", said Michael Busch, a radio astronomer involved with the observations at the SETI Institute.

HQ124 is designated as potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) but it does not pose any danger of impacting the earth in future.