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King University News :: King College Professor Captures Image of Near-Miss Asteroid

BRISTOL, Tenn. - The Burke Observatory at King College was buzzing with activity Tuesday evening, Nov. 8, as Dr. Ray Bloomer, professor of physics and astronomy and assistant dean of King College's School of Arts Sciences, captured several images of an asteroid as it passed between the moon and earth.

When an asteroid comes this near, many astronomers jump on board to see it close up, said Bloomer. It is a challenge to try and capture something both tremendously close and moving exceptionally fast. However, our computer-controlled telescope at the Burke Observatory made it relatively easy.

Discovered six years ago by Robert McMillan at Steward Observatory's Spacewatch Telescope in Ariz., the asteroid known as 2005 YU55, was considered by scientists as a near-miss, streaking by within a mere 200,000 miles from the earth.

This asteroid is very dark because it has a large amount of carbon in its chemical makeup, said Bloomer. Asteroids are left over from the formation of our solar system. As such, they contain clues to the original chemical makeup of the early solar system.

According to Sky Telescope Magazine, the essential magazine of astronomy, In the grand scheme of things, it's more micro-planet than minor planet, but we've never knowingly had something this big come this close before. Were it to strike Earth, 2005 YU55 would deliver a kinetic-energy punch equivalent to several thousand megatons of TNT. It's the kind of potential threat that outer-space sentries lose sleep over.

It was truly exciting to capture such a rare event with our telescope here at the Burke Observatory and an excellent learning opportunity for our physics students, said Bloomer.

For more information on King College's Physics program, contact Dr. Ray Bloomer at 423.652.4838, rhbloome@king.edu, or visit www.king.edu.

PHOTO NOTE: The asteroid is the streak.  The telescope was precisely tracking the stars, but the asteroid is so close and moving so fast that the result is a streak.