First radar images of 2012 DA14 – Watch it spin!

This collage of 72 individual radar-generated images of asteroid 2012 DA14 was created using data from NASA’s 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif. The observations were made on the night of Feb. 15-16, 2013 Click for large image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA released the first radar images of 2012 DA14 made with the Deep Space Network’s 230-foot radio antenna at Goldstone during last Friday’s flyby. Astronomers used the dish to beam radio waves at the asteroid and “listened” to the echoes to create pictures of its shape and surface features. Bats use the sonic equivalent by bouncing sound waves off of objects to “see” their environment and hunt for food.

The pictures were made over 7.8 hours about 8 hours after closest approach on the night of Feb. 15-16, 2013. Like a child in a portrait session, 2012 DA14 refused to sit still. As the antenna did its magic, the asteroid’s distance from Earth increased from 74,000 to 195,000 miles. Additional radar observations are planned through Wednesday Feb. 20 to further refine its orbit.


Watch 2012 DA14 rotate in this animation of 73 frames made with the Goldstone antenna. The video is a loop – you’ll see it 9 rotations.

Watching the video, you can easily see at least two interesting features of the 150-foot-long asteroid. First, it’s elongated like an Idaho spud. Second, it appears to be spinning about its long axis in a counterclockwise direction. Astronomers were fortunate to catch nearly one complete ~8 hour rotation of the asteroid during the observing window.

The NASA press release indicated these pictures are “the initial sequence”. It’s hoped more and higher quality images will become available soon. More information and another image HERE.

7 thoughts on “First radar images of 2012 DA14 – Watch it spin!

  1. What’d I tell you, Bob – they ALL look like potatoes! You don’t need radar or spaceships to tell you that. But being part Irish, I like potatoes, and pictures thereof. Thanks for posting these!

    • Richard,
      Funny you should say that. You’re right of course (!) Last night when I was teaching community education astronomy I used the old potato analogy once again.

  2. DA 14 may have been the rare event of February. I am still hopeful of a bright appearance of Panstaars. My first sighting should be Mar. 12 if not sooner. Andrew Pearce places it now at magnitude 4.2.

    • Edward.
      Be sure to let us know what you see. Mar. 12 is an auspicious time for the comet as I’m sure you know. That’s when it’s in conjunction with the crescent moon.

  3. This is truly a golden age for astronomy. Radar-imaged asteroids. Rovers on Mars. Exoplanet discoveries daily. Comets discovered far in advance. Space telescopes. Supercomputing simulations. The ubiquity of security cameras and video equipment ensures almost any new heavenly event will be recorded. (Just think if we had video footage of Tunguska or hi-res space imagery of the M1 Supernova.) It’s pushed astronomy into daily consciousness. When I was a kid, if there was an astronomy article in the local paper once a month, I was thrilled. Now, the pace of discoveries come almost every day. Truly a great time to love astronomy.
    Bob, a question: How far out can we use this radar imagery? Could it image a comet nucleus like ISON or PANSTARRS? Do you think they will try to aim at it to see what data they will get back?

    • Larry,
      Yes! We can image comets and planets. I don’t know what the limit of the various radar options are (Goldstone, Arecibo, VLA to name a few) but I do know we’ve taken radar images of Comet Hartley 2 (probably others), Mercury, Venus and Mars right here from Earth.

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