Scientists lose asteroid the size of 3 football fields - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Scientists lose asteroid the size of 3 football fields


It's the size of three football fields, yet they lost it. We're talking about the near-earth asteroid called 200 EM26. It was supposed to pass by within two millions miles or so last night, but no one could find it.

We've all misplaced our keys. That's pretty easy to do. They're not that big, but how do you lose something the size of three football fields?

So we asked a planetary scientist: where did it go?

Dr. Paul Buchanan, Kilgore College Professor of Geology and Planetary Scientist knows that outer space is much bigger than a typical house, and doesn't have the lighting, either.

"The reason it's so hard to pinpoint these objects is that, for the most part, they're very dark. They're generally either black or dark gray," Buchanan pointed out.

Dr. Buchanan actually has a few chunks of "space stuff," and I could see how you could lose it in a dark room. You can really only see them by what they block. A steady stream of night sky pictures might reveal stars that disappear then come back. Something is blocking the starlight as it moves though space.

"The problem is that the calculation of the orbit of these particular kinds of asteroids is pretty difficult. It's pretty easy to lose them because you may not have calculated a very good orbital dynamic for it, and it may be in a different part of the solar system than you think it is," Buchanan revealed.

It's tough to tell where they are, but the impact can be devastating. The one that hit in Russia in February of 2013 wasn't nearly as big, but it caused a lot of damage and injured over 1,000 people.

NASA has recruited anyone who has the equipment to look, but what if we spot one that's heading toward us?

"We would be sending up individual spacecraft and put it in a way that it would attract the asteroid into a slightly different orbit where it would miss the earth," Buchanan said.

But we would need 10-20 years notice to pull that off. As its name implies, asteroid 2000 EM26 was discovered in the year 2000, but they didn't figure out its orbit and it's is now so lost some are now calling it Moby Dick.

They lost track of asteroid EM26 quite a while ago. In fact, it has not been spotted since nine days after its discovery, back in the year 2000.

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