Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Asteroid 2016 RB1 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2016 RB1 passed by the Earth at a distance of 40 470 km (0.11 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, 0.02% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, or 4684 m higher than the orbit in which communication satellites in geostationary orbits orbit the Earth), at about 5.20 pm GMT on Wednesday 7 September 2016. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though had it done so it would have presented no threat. 2016 RB1 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 4-14 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 4-14 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to explode in an airburst (an explosion caused by superheating from friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is greater than that caused by simply falling, due to the orbital momentum of the asteroid) in the atmosphere between 43 and 26 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface.

  Image of 2016 RB1 taken on 6 September 2016 from Ceccano in Italy. Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope.

2016 RB1 was discovered on 5 September 2016 (two days before its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon Survey at the Steward Observatory on Mount Lemmon in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2016 RB1 implies that the asteroid was the 27th object (object B1) discovered in the first half of September 2016 (period 2016 R).

 The calculated orbit of 2016 RB1JPL Small Body Database.

2016 RB1 has a 280 day orbital period, with an elliptical orbit tilted at an angle of 3.05° to the plain of the Solar System which takes in to 0.76 AU from the Sun (58% of the distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun; inside the orbit of the planet Venus) and out to 1.09 AU (9% further away from the Sun than the Earth). This means that close encounters between the asteroid and Earth are fairly common, with the last thought to have happened in April this year and the next predicted in June 2020. 2016 RB1  also has frequent close encounters with the planet Venus, with the last thought to have occurred in July 2014 and the next predicted for October 2017. Although it does cross the Earth's orbit and is briefly further from the Sun on each cycle, 2016 RB1 spends most of its time closer to the Sun than we are, and is therefore classified as an Aten Group Asteroid.

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