Nightly News | November 08, 2011
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: As we mentioned earlier, the fact that we're still on the air is proof we were not hit by an asteroid tonight. Though in space terms, it was close enough to muss your hair. The asteroid at one point got closer to us than the moon, whizzing by at 29,000 miles an hour . The name of the asteroid is YU55 . As in why you have to pass so close to our planet? Considering a direct hit would have been catastrophic, the good news is it missed us by about 200,000 miles. George Lewis watched it all go by at the place actually called The Deep Space Communications Complex , where they track such things, in Southern California .
GEORGE LEWIS reporting: An asteroid watching party tonight in Brookline , Massachusetts , at the Clay Center Observatory where astronomers and students are using a 25-inch telescope to get a good look at the object known as YU55 as it hurtles past us.
Mr. RON DANTOWITZ (Clay Center Observatory): It is not an opportunity for panic or concern. It's an opportunity to look up at the night sky and enjoy the wonders of the skies.
Mr. SAM LAPIDES (11th Grade Student): It helps us progress a lot in understanding space and what's out there and what it's made of. So it's very important and it's very exciting.
LEWIS: This animation shows how the asteroid , 1300 feet at its longest point, compares to an 1100 -foot long nuclear aircraft carrier. Tonight the asteroid is closer to us than the moon. The moon's orbit about 240,000 miles from Earth . YU55 coming to within 201,000 miles. This is how NASA is keeping an eye on the asteroid , bouncing radar signals off it from this 230-foot diameter dish at Goldstone Station in California . And as researchers use powerful computers to turn the radar echoes into images, they try to reassure people the asteroid will not collide with us.
Mr. LANCE BENNER (Jet Propulsion Laboratory): There's no chance of it hitting us for as basically as we can compute its motion reliably.
LEWIS: We're far from alone in our solar system. There are thousands of so-called near Earth objects like this asteroid .
Mr. BENNER: So you can think of this as an encounter. We're sort of Spaceship Earth flying by the asteroid and getting all these detailed images while it's close to us.
LEWIS: And enthralling amateurs who love to gaze through telescopes as well as scientists tracking it on radar. George Lewis , NBC News , at the NASA Goldstone Station in California .