Astronomers using the US space agency’s Spitzer Space Telescope measured the size of the asteroid, called 2011 MD, for the
“The near-Earth asteroid was found to be roughly 20 feet (6 metres) in size, and its structure appears to contain a lot of empty space, perhaps resembling a pile of rubble,” it said in a statement.
“The Spitzer results confirm that asteroid 2011 MD has characteristics suitable for the ARM proposal, elevating it to the ‘valid candidate’ level.”
Prior to the Spitzer study, the size of 2011 MD was only very roughly calculated with visible light observations. Spitzer, however, can use its heat-sensitive infrared vision to spy asteroids and get better estimates of their sizes.
Previously, two other valid candidates, 2009 BD and 2013 EC20, have been identified.
US astronauts will then visit and explore the asteroid using NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket in the 2020s, returning to Earth with samples.
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