High-Resolution Radar at Arecibo Observatory Reveals Asteroid As a Beauty, Not a Beast

June 16, 2014
Source: NASA/JPL

HQ124Radar images of 2014 HQ124 show an elongated asteroid with an irregular surface at least 370 meters (1200 feet) in size, slightly larger than the 305-meter (1000-foot) Arecibo Observatory dish. This asteroid spins on its axis in approximately 20 hours. Credit:  Marina Brozovic and Joseph Jao, Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech/NASA/USRA/Arecibo Observatory/NSF.

Arecibo and NASA scientists using Earth-based radar have produced sharp views of a recently discovered asteroid as it slid safely past our planet. The new views of asteroid 2014 HQ124 are some of the most detailed images of a near-Earth asteroid ever obtained with Arecibo Observatory and Goldstone Solar System Radar (GSSR). The images were taken on June 8, when asteroid 2014 HQ124 safely passed Earth a little over three times the distance from Earth to the Moon (about 1.3 million kilometers or 800,000 miles). Arecibo Observatory, together with the GSSR, observed HQ124 nine hours after the closest approach. “These radar observations show that the asteroid is a beauty, not a beast,” said Alessondra Springmann, a data analyst at Arecibo Observatory, noting the complex structure of the asteroid and its peanut shape visible in the radar data.

Most radar experiments involve one radio telescope transmitting signal to the asteroid, then receiving reflected radio waves from the asteroid. Scientists observing asteroid 2014 HQ124 directed the 70-meter (230-foot) GSSR — also known as DSS-14 — to transmit to the asteroid, then the 305-meter (1000-foot) Arecibo Observatory collected the reflected waves. “We used two telescopes because that combination allowed us to get images with twice as much detail as Arecibo could achieve otherwise,” said Lance Benner, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who led the radar observations at Goldstone.

Using this configuration — GSSR transmitting, Arecibo receiving — was made possible by newly installed hardware at Arecibo that allows it to combine the 3.75-meter resolution of the GSSR transmitter with the unmatched sensitivity of the 305-meter Arecibo telescope, providing the first high-resolution radar images of an asteroid with this level of clarity from any radar system. Arecibo and GSSR scientists hope to use this new system regularly for studying near-Earth asteroids.

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Arecibo Observatory

Goldstone Solar System Radar Group

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Last updated June 16, 2014