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Near-Earth asteroid 'Moby Dick' goes missing


Posted on Wednesday, 19 February, 2014 | Comment icon 43 comments

Astronomers were unable to locate the object. Image Credit: NASA
A sizable asteroid measuring 270m across that was due to pass by the Earth seems to have disappeared.
The space rock dubbed 2000 EM26 was set to pass by us within a distance of 3.4 million kilometers, but when astronomers directed their telescopes to get a good look at it the asteroid seemed to have mysteriously vanished and was nowhere to be seen.

The object has since been nicknamed 'Moby Dick' after the infamous white whale in the story by author Herman Melville. Astronomers are not unduly concerned as the asteroid is not believed to pose a threat to the Earth however its disappearance has helped emphasize how limited out current asteroid tracking capabilities actually are.

The most likely explanation at present is that the asteroid's trajectory is different to that predicted by astronomers and everyone has simply been looking for it in the wrong place.

"It's a major chore figuring out how to reacquire asteroids," said Michael Paolucci, CEO of the robotic telescope service Slooh. "It's almost like discovering them all over again."

Source: New Scientist | Comments (43)

Tags: Asteroid

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #34 Posted by docyabut2 on 23 February, 2014, 1:52
How do they know that asteroid didn't go off track behind the sun. I remember there was one asteroid that no body saw coming behind the sun and heading our way, that Pres Bush almost had the whole northern hemisphere evacuated!
Comment icon #35 Posted by Lilly on 23 February, 2014, 20:17
I think Waspie has solved this one: This one had been seen once before and has not been observed since it was first discovered 14 years ago. Since it was only seen on one pass there would be limited information about it. With each pass that an asteroid makes the data can be fine tuned making future predictions about its whereabouts more accurate. When it is re-acquired (and eventually it will be) refinements of it's orbital parameters will be made making it more likely that it will be tracked on future passes.
Comment icon #36 Posted by Eldorado on 24 February, 2014, 0:38
Only one person can find it. Somebody call Captain Ahab! To accomplish his object Ahab must use tools; and of all tools used in the shadow of the moon, men are most apt to get out of order.
Comment icon #37 Posted by Peter B on 24 February, 2014, 12:53
How do they know that asteroid didn't go off track behind the sun. I remember there was one asteroid that no body saw coming behind the sun and heading our way, that Pres Bush almost had the whole northern hemisphere evacuated! Assuming it's an asteroid and not an alien spacecraft, it's not going to "go off track" because there's nothing to make it do that. (I won't rule out the possibility that Venus could affect its orbit, as it approaches the Sun more closely than Venus does; but the asteroid's orbit is inclined to Venus's orbit, and I don't know the maths for calculating the closest possib... [More]
Comment icon #38 Posted by Calibeliever on 24 February, 2014, 15:50
Assuming it's an asteroid and not an alien spacecraft, it's not going to "go off track" because there's nothing to make it do that. (I won't rule out the possibility that Venus could affect its orbit, as it approaches the Sun more closely than Venus does; but the asteroid's orbit is inclined to Venus's orbit, and I don't know the maths for calculating the closest possible approach nor the effect it would have.) Or it could have bumped into something?
Comment icon #39 Posted by danielost on 24 February, 2014, 21:25
Assuming it's an asteroid and not an alien spacecraft, it's not going to "go off track" because there's nothing to make it do that. (I won't rule out the possibility that Venus could affect its orbit, as it approaches the Sun more closely than Venus does; but the asteroid's orbit is inclined to Venus's orbit, and I don't know the maths for calculating the closest possible approach nor the effect it would have.) They lost track of it because they didn't have all the numbers to do the math. There are many reasons for it to have gone off course. Mass ejection, collusion, Venus, mercury, earth. Th... [More]
Comment icon #40 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 24 February, 2014, 22:39
They lost track of it because they didn't have all the numbers to do the math. This is partly true. For 14 years it was too far from the Earth to be seen by telescopes, remember this is a small dark object. It had only been previously observed for 6 days and so they didn't have all the figures for a really accurate orbital calculation, however that doesn't mean the orbit couldn't be calculated at all. In fact the margin of error was still remarkably small: Closest approach (perigee-geocentrical) was around 00:15 UTC on 18 February plus or minus about 13 hours. Source: Wikipedia ±13 hours gives... [More]
Comment icon #41 Posted by Arkitecht on 3 March, 2014, 2:02
While watcing some Thornews (Love your channel) i found out not just a lil more about this missing asteroid, but that Thor is watching on here also!Very cool dude!He even mention's it at 4:50...What's up Dude!
Comment icon #42 Posted by joc on 3 March, 2014, 3:28
They said that the asteroid was 3. 4 million kilometers away from Earth. That just doesn't seem close to me...but I guess in the expanse of the Cosmos it is. What is close, real close, and really close? ...for an asteroid?
Comment icon #43 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 3 March, 2014, 4:48
What is close, real close, and really close? ...for an asteroid? Real close is when it leaves a hole in the ground, anything else is a miss.


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