Passing asteroid MOONS the HUMAN RACE

BL86 buzz-by revealed a travelling companion

NASA animation of BL86 plus moon

Space-watchers peering at the fly-by asteroid 2004 BL86 will have missed a detail that NASA caught: the flying mountain has its own moon.

Future discoveries excluded, BL86 is expected to be the Earth's nearest-and-largest encounter for quite some years, until it approached its moon hadn't been seen.

As Space.com states, the rock is now receding from Earth at the respectable rate of 56,300 km/h (35,000 mph).

Using the 70 metre Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, NASA JPL scientists caught and animated the images of the 325-metre-across BL86 and its small-but-still-significant 70 metre moon.

NASA notes that about 16 per cent of asteroids bigger than 200 metres are binaries, with a handful living in a ménage-à-trois.

BL86 won't come this close to Earth again for “at least the next two centuries”, NASA reckons. ®

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