Close encounter of the remote kind

8 JULY 2000

The world's first clear sequence of images taken of a "near miss" space rock that zoomed past Earth this week were taken by Australia's first remotely controlled telescope at Charles Sturt University.

The world's first clear sequence of images taken of a "near miss" space rock that zoomed past Earth this week were taken by Australia's first remotely controlled telescope at Charles Sturt University at Bathurst.

Sitting in his home office in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Associate Professor Dr David McKinnon operated the telescope by remote control via the Internet to take 21 pictures of the one kilometre-wide asteroid over a 30 minute timeframe as it stumbled through space at 30 kilometres per second.

The images - stacked on top of each other to show the object streaking across space - were loaded onto CSU's website www.csu.edu.au/telescope news page.

The pictures caught the attention of astronomers and comet-watchers in the United States who contacted Dr McKinnon for permission to publish the images on their website and to obtain the detailed observational data.

The asteroid, known by researchers as 2000 QW7, was a distance of 12 times further from Earth than the moon - too close in astronomical terms.

"That's about as close as we like it to get," Dr McKinnon said.

If the asteroid had hit Earth, its force would have been equivalent to about one thousand billion Hiroshima bombs going off at the same time, according to Dr McKinnon.

Dr McKinnon said the asteroid would have left a crater 250 kilometres in diameter and injected enough dust and rubbish into the atmosphere to block out the sun.

"Life as we know it would have finished. This would be a civilisation ending event.

"It would have been similar to the event that brought an end to the dinosaurs," he said.

This was the seventh new near-Earth asteroid tracked this year but by far and away the biggest.

Dr McKinnon was very excited about getting the pictures, but disappointed he had no-one else to share it with at 2am in the morning.

"To actually get there and plan, calculate the observation schedule and then see it almost in the centre of the field of view gave me a great intellectual buzz."

Dr McKinnon initiated Charles Sturt University's Remote Telescope Project, a pilot education program for Year 5 and 6 primary school students, which allows students in Australia and anywhere in the world to navigate the southern sky without leaving their home or school computer. ends Further information: Sally Graham CSU Media Office, telephone (02) 6926 3633 or Victoria Jackson, telephone (02) 6338 4787, Email bathurst-media@csu.edu.au

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