Researchers at NASA confirmed the presence of a peanut-shaped asteroid passing near the Earth this weekend when they used two massive radio telescopes that bounced off radar signals toward the moving space rock.
The American space agency said that the asteroid, dubbed 1999 JD6, appears to have two distinct lobes that are attached to each other in what is called a contact binary.
Data collected from the NASA radio telescopes show that the 1999 JD6 asteroid came closest to the Earth in July, at an approximate distance of around 4.5 million miles. This is equivalent to 19 times the distance of the Moon from the Earth.
Lance Benner, leader of NASA's asteroid research program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, explained that radar imaging technology has demonstrated that around 15 percent of asteroids passing near the Earth, such as the 1999 JD6 asteroid, more than 600 feet in size seem to have lobed, peanut appearances.
To have a better view of the peanut-shaped space rock, NASA scientists combined observations made using California's 230-foot antenna named Deep Space Network and West Virginia's 330-foot National Science Foundation Green Bank Telescope.
The team used the Deep Space Network antenna to send radar signals toward the asteroid and allowed the Green Bank Telescope to collect the beam that bounced back from the space object. The process, known as bistatic observation, provides scientists with high quality radar imageries. The latest observations produced through this method show features on objects as small as 25 feet wide.
The images the researchers used for the scientific film were collected during the July 25 observation, which show the 1999 JD6 asteroid has a length of about 1.2 miles on its axis. The movie of the asteroid spans an observation period of more than seven hours.
Data collected from the latest observations will be beneficial to researchers, including Cornell University's Sean Marshall, who is conducting a research on the 1999 JD6 asteroid that is funded by the Near-Earth Object Program of NASA.
"I'm interested in this particular asteroid because estimates of its size from previous observations, at infrared wavelengths, have not agreed," Marshall said.
"The radar data will allow us to conclusively resolve the mystery of its size to better understand this interesting little world."
The 1999 JD6 asteroid was first discovered by scientists at Arizona's Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search (LONEOS) in May of 1999. While its exact size is yet to be determined, the asteroid has been extensively studied for years, with researchers discovering its physical properties and trajectory.