NASA released video footage of the near-Earth object asteroid 2012 DA14 Tuesday (Feb. 19) as it made its historic pass, the closest ever for a near-Earth object of such massive proportions. The tumbling image was a composite of data collected from solar system radar at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex. Unfortunately, all of the data was of the asteroid moving away from the Earth.
At a glance, the video, all of 42 seconds long, is a bit underwhelming (possibly due to the fact that NASA usually releases such awesome animations, and those incredible Mars photos that made mesmerizing motion videos have set the bar high). But it should be noted that getting information on the asteroid at all is a feat in and of itself. The space rock was traveling at a mere 17,450 miles per hour (roughly 4.8 miles per second).
The video was made up of 72 separate frames. Each frame was a composite of 320 seconds of data collection from the Goldstone radar antenna taken over a period of almost eight hours. The captured image is of the asteroid at a distance of 74,000 miles (120,000 kilometers) increasing to 195,000 miles (314,000 kilometers).
Viewers see what appears to be a slightly amorphous pixellated objecting tumbling through the darkness of space.
Radar is an important tool in determining measurements of asteroid distances and velocities. Data gathered via radar can often be used in the computation of asteroid orbits much further into the future than if such observations weren't available to scientists.
Still, since all the excitement of the asteroid's coming and passing had been exhausted by the time of its arrival -- and given the unexciting video of its passage -- NASA owes the Chelyabinsk meteor a bit of thanks for lending a bit of excitement to the day, not to mention a bit of pyrotechnics. The unexpected appearance of the meteor and the hundreds of subsequent photos and videos even gave NASA something else to do -- like prove that the meteor had nothing to do with the asteroid and calculate its mass, speed, and blast force.