Asteroid's near hit changes its orbit

Feb. 10, 2011 at 3:08 PM   |   Comments

PASADENA, Calif., Feb. 10 (UPI) -- An asteroid passing Earth at just 3,400 miles was the closest near miss on record, and Earth's gravity sent it into an entirely new orbit, U.S. researchers say.

The approach of the small asteroid 2011 CQ1 last week was so close the object's path through space was bent by 60 degrees, the biggest orbital change ever recorded by astronomers, NewScientist.com reported.

The change was large enough to shift the asteroid, slightly more than a yard across, from one category of objects into another, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said.

"Prior to the Earth close approach, this object was in a so-called Apollo-class orbit that was mostly outside the Earth's orbit," JPL's Don Yeomans said. "Following the close approach, the Earth's gravitational attraction modified the object's orbit to an Aten-class orbit where the asteroid spends almost all of its time inside the Earth's orbit."

However, 2011 CQ1's close approach to Earth will likely be the last time we'll see it, Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society said.

"We'll probably never be close enough to it again to be able to pick its dim light out from the background of stars."

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