When the Minor Planet Center cataloged the Rosetta Space Probe as an asteroid?
Yeah. Me too. It was awesome.
What with all the attention surrounding asteroid 1998 QE2 and its newly discovered moon, I thought I’d take some time to talk about my favorite asteroid of all time, 2007 VN84.
Which turned out to be the Rosetta Space Probe.
I love the fact that this happened partly because it strikes me as being funny, and partly because I love it when things don’t turn out the way they’re expected to. For people that don’t remember, it happened in 2007, and there was some hubbub over it. Richard Kowalski discovered the asteroid, which appeared extremely close and looked to be about 20 meters across and would come within 1.89 Earth radii of our geocenter (or within 5,700 km/3,500 miles). Now that is close (you’ll notice everyone has been talking about how close 1998 QE2 is at 3.5 million miles).
It should be noted that Kowalski is actually a pretty badass astronomer. He was the first to predict an asteroid hitting Earth (2008 TC3) which then did enter Earth’s atmosphere (it’s hard to actually find and predict asteroids that collide with us because they’re usually pretty darn small) and exploded over the Nubian Desert. He’s got his own asteroid named after him (7392 Kowalski) but the reason he’s really cool is he’s for professional and amateur astronomers working together and building a community (and I love that stuff). He founded the Minor Planet Mailing List, which is available to everyone, so really, my point is, yes, the Rosetta Space Probe is not an asteroid, but it doesn’t really diminish the discoverer’s awesomeness.
The astronomer who recognized that 2007 VN84 was not, in fact, an asteroid, was Denis Denisenko (of supernovae 2011IP and 2011HZ fame) and who, presumably, has X-men superpowers when it comes to remembering probe trajectories.
With the Minor Planet Center observations crossing the 100 million mark this last March, and identifying over 600,000 orbits, and with thousands of artificial satellites going around Earth, and a goodly number of space probes (like Rosetta) that have been sent out, I’m actually shocked that the 2007 incident doesn’t happen more often.
I know that none of the above is new info on spacey stuff (which is why it’s not taking up my usual Tuesday slot you’ll notice) but just in case you were wondering what my all time favorite minor planet (a.k.a ‘asteroid’) is, it’s the Rosetta Space Probe.