Students from Yale University used the WIYN 0.9-meter telescope
at Kitt Peak National Observatory to capture a series of
still images of asteroid 2002 NY40 on August 15-16,
two nights before its close flyby of Earth.

These images have been turned into a short digital movie
that clearly demonstrates the impressive speed of 2002 NY40
as seen from Earth over a period of about two hours.

The movie is available for downloading at the following Web site:

Yale undergraduate student Brandy Heflin and graduate student
Bing Zhao were at the 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak conducting
research on exotic binary stars when they decided to interrupt
their work to observe this unique event. A consortium of
universities took over operation of the 0.9-meter telescope
from the National Science Foundation last March, in order to
give their students more hands-on research time.

“These unplanned observations reflect the exact reasons that
the university partnership took over operational responsibility
for the telescope,” said astronomer Charles Bailyn, Heflin and
Zhao’s research mentor at Yale. “They took me a bit by surprise,
but we want to encourage students to take the initiative, and
they did a very nice job. There is also some real science to
be gleaned from these observations, in terms of brightness
fluctuations and the rotational period of the asteroid.”

2002 NY40 crossed an area of the sky about equal to the full
Moon during the time period of the movie, traveling northwest
through the constellation Aquarius. Two nights later, during
its closest approach to Earth, the asteroid was moving across
the sky about 20 times faster.

Discovered on July 14, asteroid 2002 NY40 has an estimated
diameter of 700 meters (0.43 miles). It passed safely by Earth
on the night of August 17-18 at a distance of approximately
524,000 kilometers (326,000 miles), about 1.3 times the
distance from Earth to the Moon.

For the sake of comparison, if a person were riding on the
asteroid and looking back toward Earth during its close passage,
our planet would have appeared nearly three times larger on
the sky than the Moon does from Earth.

A long-exposure image of the asteroid taken at the WIYN 3.5-meter
telescope on the night of August 17 by Hillary Mathis showed
no obvious evidence that 2002 NY40 is a binary asteroid, a
possibility that is being investigated by radio telescopes
and other observatories.

The digital movie of 2002 NY40 was created by the staff of
the Public Affairs & Educational Outreach department at the
National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, AZ.

More information about the Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOAO (WIYN)
consortium’s operation of the 0.9-meter telescope is available at:

Participants in the 0.9-meter consortium include Indiana University,
San Francisco State University, the University of Florida,
Wesleyan University and four University of Wisconsin campuses

NOAO is operated by the Association of Universities for
Research in Astronomy (AURA), Inc., under a cooperative agreement
with the National Science Foundation. NOAO operates telescopes
at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, AZ, and Cerro
Tololo Inter-American Observatory near La Serena, Chile, and
it is the U.S. partner in the International Gemini Observatory.