NEO Asteroid 2005 YU55 Buzzes Earth!

Nov 8, 2011

Or anyway, that's what the popular press said. It actually was a very cool event to watch. The asteroid swung along the ecliptic just behind the moon, passing only 2/3 of the lunar distance about sunset, at 11th magnitude. I'd thought it would be too faint to find and track at it's high speed, on the 12"... but then I thought - what the hell. Let's try it anyway. I've got to be down there soon thereafter for Astro 8A anyway. It was a clear night. It was the biggest NEO to pass this close to Earth in over 30 years. It was worth a shot.

Got there at 5:50pm and brought up the Sky&Tel chart on the computer, got CCDOPS in 'focus' mode, downloading 1 sec images, ID'd a bright star which the asteroid would zoom by in exactly 2 minutes.... and sure enough, there it was when I snapped a 5-sec image. I figured out which Gemini VHC virtual paddles buttons to hit and how often in order to follow it, and began taking a series of images. First, 5 seconds, enough to show a short streak, then 10, then 20, and finally settling on 30 second grab shots, no autoguiding, which gave a streak about half the height of the CCD chip. Astro 8A students began to show up, and I gave them the story of this asteroid. Ben said he heard about it on the news that afternoon, and that KION was soliciting images to show on the late night TV news. After I got good at setting up the next shot each time, I figured I could get a good one they'd like.