China telescope captures images of Earth-approaching asteroid

NANJING — A telescope at Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing, capital of the eastern province of Jiangsu, has captured images of an asteroid approaching Earth.

The images of the asteroid, coded as 2009ES by the Minor Planet Center (MPC), were captured Wednesday night, Zhao Haibin with the observatory said on Thursday.

This is the first time that a telescope in China has captured images of the asteroid, one of 1,640 minor bodies listed by MPC that could have a close encounter with the Earth.

The observatory’s 1.2-meter Schmidt is the largest telescope of its kind in Asia.

Zhao said the observatory was notified by MPC on Sept. 5 to observe the asteroid. It passed Earth within a range 18.8 times of the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

Previously, eight other telescopes around the world had captured images of the asteroid.

Zhao said minor planets’ trajectories could be changed by stellar attraction from planets such as Mars. Continuous observation is needed to keep track of any changes.

“With the help of our images, astronomers across the globe have a more accurate moving trajectory of the asteroid,” he said.

Scientists estimate that should an asteroid measuring 10,000 meters collide with Earth, the impact would equal the explosion capacity of 3 billion atomic bombs. Astronomers widely believe that such an asteroid hit the Earth 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs. PNA/Xinhua/northboundasia.com