Karela Fry

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Keeping things in perspective

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The Daily Mail reported on a relatively close approach of an asteroid to the earth, but illustrated it with a luridly wrong picture:

Asteroid ‘433 Eros’, which is 400 times the City of London, came within 16.6million miles of our planet yesterday evening.

The massive hunk of rock posed no threat, but is the closest an asteroid of its size has come to Earth in a long time.

The last time Eros got up close and personal was 37 years ago in 1975. Its next visit won’t be until 2056.

Eros orbits the Sun every 642.9 days and rotates once every five hours and 16 minutes.

It was discovered in 1898 by Gustav Witt in Germany and Auguste Charlois in France.

A smaller bus-sized asteroid passed even closer to Earth last week.

Asteroid 2012 BX34, came within 36,750miles of Earth at about 3.30pm on Friday, according to NASA’s Asteroid Watch programme.

False perspective of the Eros' approach to within 16 million miles of the earth

False scale

Corrected perspective of Eros' approach to within 16 million miles of the earth

Correct scale

In astronomy distances are truly, well, astronomical. That is something that newspaper illustrators may not appreciate. The “close approach” of asteroid Eros within 16.6 million miles of the earth was illustrated with the picture on the left. The perspective is false. If you hover over the surface of the asteroid, which is 21 miles in diameter so that it fills about half the frame, then the earth at a distance of about 16.6 million miles would be a little speck, even smaller than the speck I put into the picture on the right.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

February 2, 2012 at 5:04 am

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