YU55, the asteroid that’s flying between the earth and the moon today, is named after the year it was discovered. Although it is gaining notoriety because of its close passage by Mother Earth, it is just one of more than 150,000 chunks of rock orbiting in our solar system. Those that hit the earth’s atmosphere burn up in cascades of light, such as the Orionid Meteor Shower of last month. Others fall to earth as meteorites.
At least three asteroids have Indian names: Number 2938 is named Hopi, 3688 is Navajo and 4487 is Pocahontas. Although Pocahontas made its closest approach yet to earth on January 21, 2011, it did not come nearly as close as the aircraft-carrier-sized YU55.
We are lucky it’s not coming within striking distance.
“A similar asteroid hitting Earth could seriously damage a city or cause a tsunami,” writes physicist Meg Urry on CNN.com. The movies Deep Impact and Armageddon come to mind, but there are many films containing references to killer space debris.
Of all the asteroids logged with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Minor Planet Center, only 10 percent have names, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Read about other Indian-named asteroids, and watch a video of the fly-by.