Near-Earth Object 2000 SG344 – Is it an asteroid?

Hundreds of near-earth asteroids such as this one orbit around the sun. Some are bigger than a mile across and a collision with earth would cause global destruction. Others are much smaller such as Near-Earth Object 2000 SG344 discovered September 29, 2000. Its size is estimated at only 150 feet. But what is it? Why is it pacing with our planet in the earth's plane?  And could it hit the earth in 2071? Photograph courtesy NASA 2000.
Hundreds of near-earth asteroids such as this one orbit around the sun. Some are bigger than a mile across and a collision with earth would cause global destruction. Others are much smaller such as Near-Earth Object 2000 SG344 discovered September 29, 2000. Its size is estimated at only 150 feet. But what is it? Why is it pacing with our planet in the earth’s plane? And could it hit the earth in 2071? Photograph courtesy NASA 2000.

November 5, 2000  Pasadena, California – Asteroids headed towards, or near, earth are in the news again. On Friday, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office in Pasadena, California announced that a small object discovered on September 29th had a small chance of colliding with this planet in September 2030. In fact, this was the first asteroid-like object to be given a Number One on the Torino scale which measures space collision threats. The scale was developed in 1998 by Richard Binzel, Professor of Planetary Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to help categorize near-earth objects. It’s a sliding scale from zero to ten. Zero is no threat. A ten means definite impact that would cause a global catastrophe. A category one means scientists think this new object deserves careful monitoring. Paul Chodas, Principal Engineer for the NEAR Program Office at JPL, said “This is the highest probability of impact that we have ever calculated for an object.”

However, by Saturday, November 4, more tracking data and calculations had downgraded the impact threat for the year 2030 to zero, but left open a possible collision in 2071. The reason is that the still-unidentified object is orbiting around the sun right in the earth’s plane. This weekend I talked with Dr. Paul Chodas about what the object could be.


Interview:

Paul Chodas, Ph.D., Principal Engineer, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office, Pasadena, California: “This particular asteroid is in such an orbit that it is almost flying in formation with the earth. The asteroid is moving slightly faster so it will take 31 revolutions to catch up to the earth in 30 years.

ABOUT HOW BIG IS THIS OBJECT?

We believe this object is approximately 50 meters in size. That’s 150 feet. There’s uncertainty on that because we only have a few observations of it.

This meteor Crater in Arizona was created more than 20,000 years ago by an object only 24 meters (80 feet) across. Photograph courtesy NASA.
This meteor Crater in Arizona was created more than 20,000 years ago by an object only 24 meters (80 feet) across. Photograph courtesy NASA.

COULD YOU PLEASE COMMENT ON SOME OF THE SUGGESTIONS THIS WEEK THAT IT MIGHT BE AN APOLLO BOOSTER RELIC?

Yes, the orbit of the asteroid is very similar to that which some of the Apollo 3rd stage booster rockets are in when they go around the sun. Five of these 3rd stage boosters are in orbit around the sun: Apollos 8 through 12 had these boosters and they are in orbits that are much like the earth and probably like the orbit of this asteroid.