Asteroid Toutatis, which passed within 29 lunar orbits of the moon on October 31, has been followed by two newly discovered objects which are passing earth on much closer orbits.

While neither asteroid is going to come near an impact with the planet, one was discovered on October 25, and the other as it was making its close approach on November 1.

Asteroid 2000 UK11 past within 4 lunar orbits of the earth during the early morning hours of November 1. 2000 UK11, a house-sized object, would have been capable of inflicting significant damage had it impacted the earth. It could have destroyed the equivalent of a city if it had struck land, or created ten foot tidal waves had it hit the ocean intact. Given its size, however, the object would probably have provided no more than a spectacular light show as it combusted in the atmosphere.

2000 UK11 is a rare “Aten” object; its orbit is almost entirely inside the orbit of Earth. Amateur astronomers with telescopes capable of tracking 18-20th magnitude objects can spot the asteroid for themselves as it races away from Earth in the days ahead. [ephemeris for observers]

Left: John Rogers, using the 0.3 m Helin telescope at the Camarillo Observatory, captured this 60 second exposure of 2000 UK11 at 0300 GMT on Nov. 1st. Background stars appear as streaks because the telescope was tracking the fast-moving asteroid.

On Nov. 7, 2000, a bright near-Earth asteroid will zip past our planet just 6.1 times farther away than the Moon. The 250 meter-wide space rock, called 2000 UG11, was discovered by MIT’s LINEAR search program on Oct. 25th. Amateur astronomers with 8 inch or larger telescopes can spot UG11 for themselves as it brightens to 13.5 magnitudes next Tuesday. Around the time of its closest approach, the asteroid will race through the constellations Orion and Taurus faster than 1 degree per hour.

While none of these asteroids pose any threat to the earth, the discovery of two new such objects within just a few days of their closest approach points out the need for astronomers to be provided with better asteroid-watch capabilities. Had one of these objects been on a collision course with earth, there would have been little time to prepare for the impact, let alone attempt to deflect the object into a safer orbit.

Thanks to NASA’s Space Weather website for astronomical data and photos. Visit {www.spaceweather.com.

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