The Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) has determined with new analysis by its Sentry impact monitoring system that a small asteroid whose uncertain position was of concern will pass by Earth at a very safe distance in September. The new analysis of the asteroid, called 2006 QV89, was made possible by key telescopic observations made in early July, and then again the weekend of August 10-11, by Dr. Dave Tholen of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy. After being too distant and too faint to be detectable for over 13 years, Tholen picked the asteroid up using a wide-field camera on the 3.6-meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) on Mauna Kea.
CNEOS had already predicted 13 years ago that 2006 QV89, which is roughly 30 meters (100 feet) in size, would make a close approach to our planet in Sept. 2019, but since the asteroid had not been tracked in the interim, its close approach distance was highly uncertain. CNEOS’s Sentry system even reported that there was a very small possibility that QV89 could potentially impact during the close approach.
To attempt to rule out the remote possibility of impact in Sept. 2019, Dr. Marco Micheli of ESA’s NEO Coordination Centre led a team which used the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) on July 4 and 5 to observe the location in the sky where the asteroid would need to be if it were on an impact trajectory. Dr. Davide Farnocchia of JPL/CNEOS supported the effort by validating the precise sky position corresponding to a potential impact within the much larger region of possible positions of the asteroid in the sky. After Micheli reported that the asteroid was not detected at that predicted impactor location, when it should have been easily bright enough to be detected, CNEOS on July 18 removed the Sept. 2019 potential impact from the Sentry list for 2006 QV89.
But eliminating the September 2019 potential impact through a “negative observation” is not how impacts are typically ruled out. That is usually accomplished through a “positive” detection, which indicates where an asteroid actually is located, instead of where it is not. Tholen’s clear detections of 2006 QV89 using CFHT have now put the matter to rest: we can now predict the asteroid will pass Earth on Sep. 27, 2019 at a comfortable distance of 4.3 million miles (6.9 million kilometers), about 18 times the distance of the Moon. The revised analysis from the CNEOS Sentry system using Tholen’s new data also enables us to rule out any chance that 2006 QV89 might impact over the next century.
JPL hosts the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program, an element of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office within the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.
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Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA