The stony or “s-class” asteroid 2003 SD220, which is shaped like a hot dog bun and is between one and two kilometres long, is of particular interest to scientists, because it’s on NASA’s list of near-Earth asteroids that astronauts could potentially visit in the future.
Fortunately for anyone who might be making toy deliveries Christmas Eve in an airborne sleigh drawn by flying reindeer, it’s not coming too close on this pass — about 28 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.
“We find the asteroid to resemble a sweet potato, or batata, which is quite appropriate for the holiday season,” said Edgard Rivera-Valentin, a planetary scientist with Universities Space Research Association at Arecibo Observatory, in a statement.
The Goldstone observatory has also captured some radar images. Based on them, Lance Benner, who leads NASA’s asteroid radar research program at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, estimates that the asteroid is at least 1.1 kilometres long — slightly different from Arecibo’s estimate — and “highly elongated” in shape.
Thursday’s flyby is the second of three asteroid flybys this week — the first, 1995 YR1, flew by on Dec. 23. It was only 300 metres wide, but it came the closest, within 17 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.
All three of those asteroids are listed by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center as being “potentially hazardous” — but none of them is coming close enough pose any risk on this pass.