It may look like bad graphics from an 8-bit video game, but you’re actually looking at asteroid 2012 DA14 as it made its Earth-buzzing flyby, courtesy of the Goldstone Solar System Radar. The blurry footage of the roughly 130-foot long space rock was captured as it was moving away from the Earth on February 15, with the 230-foot Deep Space Network antenna capturing shots of it as close as 74,000 miles away.
As you might expect, that doesn’t add up to a huge amount of resolution, even when you’re dealing with a rock bigger than a house. In fact, NASA can manage a resolution of around 13 feet to a pixel, with the captured shots – combined into a video, below – covering a total period of nearly eight hours.
During that time, asteroid 2012 DA14 moved 195,000 miles away from the Earth, and completed roughly one full rotation. Even though the resolution isn’t great, it’s still sufficient for NASA to make some judgements on the asteroid’s size, shape, and rotation, not to mention the condition of its surface, such as roughness and any protruding features.
Meanwhile, knowing an asteroid is there is obviously better than not having a clue of its whereabouts, and so the Deep Space Network antenna works in tandem with the Near-Earth Object Observations Platform, aka “Spaceguard,” to identify what might one day present a collision issue. Happily that was never an issue with DA14, though the asteroid did come so close to the planet as to pass through the gap in-between it and the ring of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites in orbit.