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Tracing a bright fireball back to its parent: the potentially hazardous asteroid 2003 YT1

29 Jan 2020, 14:00 UTC
Tracing a bright fireball back to its parent: the potentially hazardous asteroid 2003 YT1
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In 2017, a bright fireball burned up over Japan. If you had been standing right under it you would've seen it zip across the sky in a few seconds, getting as bright as Venus to the eye.

That's fairly typical for very bright meteors, but this one gets more interesting. It was caught on camera by 12 of the 27 cameras making up the SonotaCo Network, which watch the skies over Japan for just such an event. Astronomers then used all that data to backtrack the trajectory of the meteoroid*, which can then be used to calculate its orbital path before it hit us. What they found is a near perfect match to the orbit of a small asteroid called 2003 YT1!

A bright fireball over Japan was seen on 28 April 2017 by a dozen cameras of the SonotaCo Network, allowing its trajectory to be triangulated (red arrow). Credit: Kasuga et al.

That's where this story gets interesting indeed. 2003 YT1 is a near-Earth asteroid, on a tilted and elliptical orbit that takes it about 14 months to move around the Sun. That orbit gets very close to Earth indeed; it can potentially get within a mere 400,00 kilometers ...

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