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Posted by George Freund on July 2, 2011 at 11:55 AM

Would God fire a warning shot to the world. Would the World listen? This asteroid richocheted off the atmosphere last Monday.


Analysis by Ian O'Neill

Fri Jun 24, 2011 06:40 PM ET


As we all know by now, an asteroid called 2011 MD will pass unnervingly close to our planet on Monday. Although its orbit won't put it on a collision course with Earth -- I kinda wish it would, imagine the fireworks!* -- it will get close enough to be deflected by our planet's gravitational field.


SEE ALSO: INCOMING! Asteroid to Narrowly Miss Earth on Monday


But by how much will 2011 MD's orbit be deflected? Courtesy of Pasquale Tricarico, Research Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, we can see just how close this asteroid will get to us through a series of animations he's prepared from observational data.

"It is interesting to note that [2011 MD] will come closer than the GPS satellites, and also that it comes from the northern hemisphere, passes over the Earth's south pole, and then is deflected so strongly that leaves the Earth back in the northern hemisphere," Tricarico says on his website.


The following animation shows the gravitational deflection on the asteroid's path as it passes over the Southern Hemisphere:



Now, imagine sitting on the asteroid's surface, seeing the small dot in the distance slowly turn into the blue globe of Earth. Can't imagine this roller-coaster ride as 2011 MD plunges into the edge of the Earth's gravitational well? Tricarico has an animation for that, too. For me, this is my favorite visualization:



For more animations, browse Tricarico's website, paying particular attention to 2011 MD's close pass when compared with the orbits of GPS satellites. Now that's close.


*Don't worry, I'm not turning into a megalomaniac, 2011 MD would mostly burn up in the Earth's atmosphere, so it would be quite an impressive, but safe, explosion high in the atmosphere.

Animation credit: Pasquale Tricarico. Used with permissi

Finally, from the point of view of the asteroid. Notice how it crosses the GPS constellation.

Categories: Environment