Animation of radar images of asteroid 2017 BQ6 acquired on Feb. 6-7, 2017. Credit: ASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR. Animation by J. Major.
It sounds like a surprise challenge posed by the “Dungeon Master” in a game of Dungeons & Dragons but this is sort of what happened on a cosmic scale on Feb. 6, 2017, when the 200-meter (656-foot) -wide asteroid 2017 BQ6 passed by Earth. Using the radar imaging capabilities of the giant 70-meter antenna at NASA’s DSN facility in Goldstone, CA, scientists got a good look at the object as it passed—and it does seem to resemble a tumbling gaming die!
“The radar images show relatively sharp corners, flat regions, concavities, and small bright spots that may be boulders,” said Lance Benner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who leads the agency’s asteroid radar research program. “Asteroid 2017 BQ6 reminds me of the dice used when playing Dungeons and Dragons. It is certainly more angular than most near-Earth asteroids imaged by radar.”
The animation above is made from 25 separate radar images acquired on Feb. 6 and 7 as BQ6 passed safely by at a distance of 6.6 times the distance between Earth and the Moon, or about 1.6 ...