1950 DA, The (not so) Friendly Neighborhood Asteroid

1950 DA is an asteroid that was discovered in 1950 (hence the name) by Carl A. Wirtanen. After it was first discovered, it was lost after 17 days of observation because the period was too short to determine the asteroid’s future location. It was rediscovered in December 2000 and recognized as 1950 DA in January 2001. It is classified as both a near-Earth object (NEO) and a potentially hazardous object (PHO). Based on the definition of a NEO, 1950 DA’s perihelion is less than 1.3 AU. The definition of a PHO tells us that 1950 DA makes exceptionally close approaches to Earth (mimimum orbital intersection distance of less than 0.05 AU) and is large enough to cause significant damage in the case of an impact. This asteroid is also classified as an Apollo object, which details that it has a semi-major axis greater than that of the Earth but perihelion distances less than Earth’s aphelion distance. Apollo objects currently make up the largest group of NEOs.

                There are two main things that I think make this asteroid very interesting. The first thing is the fact that it is a PHO. After observations were made and analyzed, it was determined at one point to have the highest probability of impacting Earth. In 2002, it had the highest Palermo rating for a possible collision in 2880. The Palermo rating scale is used to rate the potential hazard of impact of a NEO. In addition to this, I also think its composition is interesting. In 2014, physicists from the University of Tennessee found that it is not a single continuous object, but actually a mile-long collection of rocks held together somehow. They determined that the body was held together by weak electrical attractions between the molecules of the rocks, showing that Van der Waals forces are the reason the form is held.

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2 thoughts on “1950 DA, The (not so) Friendly Neighborhood Asteroid

  1. Really interesting post! What would happen if 1950 DA were to end up on a collision course with Earth? I know that NASA has a “planetary defense” unit but I am not sure what they would do. I’m also curious as to how this object’s composition would affect an impact. Would it scatter upon impact? Would the many pieces break apart upon entering Earth’s atmosphere?

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  2. From your TA: Great post! A few years ago there was a mission to try to land a rover on an asteroid, and it failed. Hopefully soon we will be able to successfully land a rover on one so that we can learn more about them!

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