The Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile was successfully able to photograph the double asteroid that flew past the Earth on May 25 at a distance of 3.2 million miles and a speed of 43 thousand miles per hour.
The left image on the right is the raw image, while the right image is their reconstruction after applying adaptive-optics (AO) to the raw image. From the press release:
Bin Yang, VLT astronomer, declared “When we saw the satellite in the AO-corrected images, we were extremely thrilled. At that moment, we felt that all the pain, all the efforts were worth it.” Mathias Jones, another VLT astronomer involved in these observations, elaborated on the difficulties. “During the observations the atmospheric conditions were a bit unstable. In addition, the asteroid was relatively faint and moving very fast in the sky, making these observations particularly challenging, and causing the AO system to crash several times. It was great to see our hard work pay off despite the difficulties!”
To put it mildly, that right image is a fantasy. Astronomers love to tout the wonders of adaptive optics, but no matter how good it might be, it still is garbage-in-garbage-out, a computer simulation based on their guess at what the object would look like if there was no atmosphere in the way. In this particular case, they are being especially fantastic, and guaranteed to be wrong. It is impossible for them to extrapolate such minute surface details from the fuzzy image on the left.
Still, getting an image of this asteroid as it zipped by at that speed using such a large telescope is an achievement, and bodes well for the use of ground-based astronomy of near Earth asteroids.
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