Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
September 1, 1999
Explanation: Nearly four kilometres across, the huge rock known as 1999 JM8 silently passed only 8.5 million kilometres from the Earth in early August. The small asteroid was completely unknown before May. Every few centuries, a rock like this impacts the Earth, with the potential to disrupt modern civilization. Radar from two of the largest radio telescopes, Arecibo and Goldstone, tracked and imaged the Apollo asteroid as it approached to only 22 times the distance to the Moon. Although 1999 JM8 missed the Earth, thousands of similar but unknown asteroids likely exist that cross Earth's orbit. In fact, four asteroids have passed inside the orbit of the Moon within the last decade. Possibly of larger concern to humanity are the more numerous rocks near 100 metres across. Were one of these to strike an ocean, a dangerous tidal wave might occur.
Authors & editors:
Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.