Arecibo Observatory Takes Stunning, Closest Ever Images of Rare Single-Rock Asteroid

asteroid 2011 UW158

Asteroid 2011 UW158 will fly by Earth in 2108. (Arecibo Observatory)

Scientists from the Arecibo Observatory have released some rare images of Asteroid (436724) 2011 UW158 that is flying by at a distance of 6.9 million kilometers away or about 9 times the distance to the Moon with $5 trillion worth of platinum.

It will be visible from Earth 11 p.m (London time) on Sunday and is available live to watch on Internet from 4 AM Monday at Slooh website.

The single rock of Asteroid UW-158 consists of 90 million tonne core. Slooh website is planning telescope links to provide live streaming on the internet from an observatory in the Canary Islands, off the coast of northwestern Africa.


asteroid 2011UW 158 (Photo:ESA)

Slooh Astronomer, Bob Berman said, “What makes this unusual is the large amount of platinum believed to be lurking in the body of this space visitor. Perhaps it could be mined someday, not too far in the future.”

Unlike many asteroids sighted so far which were smaller rocks held together loosely by gravity, the Asteroid 2011 UW158 has an odd shape like an unshielded walnut with a diameter of 300 by 600 meters (1000 X 2000 feet), and it was rotating once in every 37 minutes, according to Arecibo Observatory, which has released some rare pictures.

However, it will make a nearest fly-by in 2108 and is not considered a potential threat to Earth. The three Arecibo radar images of asteroid 2011 UW158 show that it is rotating fast in the image showing each pixel equal to 7.5 m (25 feet) of distance.

The Arecibo, supported among others by NASA’s Near Earth Object Observation program, was watching with astonishment the fast approaching asteroid that is supposed flyby Earth next century.

“Its size, shape, and rotation suggest there is something more than gravity holding this object together or else the asteroid would break up due to its fast spin”, said Dr. Patrick Taylor, team lead in the Planetary Radar department.

The scientists explained that Asteroid 2011 UW158 could be one solid rock or body instead of several smaller rocks held together due to gravity in a typical asteroid. However, this is not the first time that such an asteroid in one single rock was found as in two more asteroids in the past had similar properties, said the scientists.

National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (Arecibo Observatory)“We expect that something this big should have been shattered into smaller pieces by collisions with other asteroids over the age of the Solar System. It is interesting that something this large and apparently solid is still around,” explained Dr. Taylor.

“Such observations provide clues to how asteroids formed and changed over time”, added Dr. Edgard Rivera-Valentin, another scientist from the team. a member of the Planetary Radar department and part of the observation team.

Located in Puerto Rico, the Arecibo Observatory has the largest single dish radio telescope in the world, which is operated by SRI International in partnership with Ana G. Méndez University System-Universidad Metropolitanaand Universities Space Research Administration (USRA) under a cooperative agreement with the NSF.


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