NASA turns to an old-fashioned technology in the hunt for asteroids

Behold the peanut-shaped Asteroid 2006 DP14, a 1,300-foot (400-meter) long object that recently flew past Earth. The asteroid was scanned with Doppler radar — a tried-and-true technology that's helping astronomers pinpoint potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.

Using Delay-Doppler Radar, the images were captured by NASA scientists using the 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, CA, on the night of February 11th, 2014. The strangely-shaped asteroid is a "contact binary," an object with two large lobes on either side that appears to be in contact.

NASA turns to an old-fashioned technology in the hunt for asteroidsS

The object's distance is about 11 times the distance between the Earth and moon (2.6 million miles, or 4.2 million kilometers). Its closest approach to Earth happened on February 10th; it's not considered a threat. But it's a great example of how a seemingly archaic technology still holds great value. As NASA explains:

Radar is a powerful technique for studying an asteroid's size, shape, rotation state, surface features and surface roughness, and for improving the calculation of asteroid orbits. Radar measurements of asteroid distances and velocities often enable computation of asteroid orbits much further into the future than if radar observations weren't available.

NASA places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our home planet from them. In fact, the United States has the most robust and productive survey and detection program for discovering near-Earth objects. To date, U.S. assets have discovered more than 98 percent of the known near-Earth objects.

[Via NASA]