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NASA uses new technique to snap high-res asteroid images

Read on for 3.5m resolution pics of Asteroid 2014 HQ124

Planetoid crashes into primordial Earth

Video A recent upgrade at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico has helped NASA capture high-res images of the asteroid 2014 HQ124, which passed fairly close by Earth last week.

The upgrade allowed the researchers to operate the 305-metre Arecibo in tandem with other radio telescopes to improve the resolution of a technique in which radar signals are sent from one instrument in the pair, to be received by the other.

In the case of 2014 HQ124, the 70 metre Goldstone Deep Space Network antenna was the anchor of the pairings, with the “other end” of the connection alternatively Arecibo and a nearby 34-metre antenna 32 kilometres from Goldstone.

As NASA explains here, the images show views of features as small as 3.75 metres wide just after the asteroid's nearest approach, 1.25 million kilometres away on June 8. The composite images were captured at distances between 1.39 million kilometres and 1.45 million kilometres.

Each image in the set represents about 10 minutes of data, and the top row of the collage (below), demonstrates that operating in tandem with Arecibo yields data “30 times brighter than what Goldstone can produce observing on its own”.

Asteroid 2014 HQ124

2014 HQ124. Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arecibo Observatory/USRA/NSF

NASA says 2014 HQ124 seems to be a “contact binary” – an asteroid with two distinct lobes, indicating that it may once have been two objects that came into shape. Its peanut-like shape is typical of about one-in-six asteroids in the near-Earth population, the agency says. ®

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