Last updated 29 Apr 2024

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2003 WT153 (small Aten making close approach, possibly space junk?)

2003 WT153 was discovered with the 1.8m Spacewatch II telescope on images taken at 07:30UT on 29th November 2003, moving at over 50"/minute and was followed for nearly 3 hours.

It was put on the NEO Confirmation page later that day but without any indication of positional uncertainty due no doubt to the good length of observation obtained by the discoverers.

Nine hours later it was 17th magnitude and travelling at 66"/minute when first picked up at Great Shefford and was only about 3' from the Minor Planet Center's search ephemeris position.

To get sharp images suitable for astrometry, because of the fast motion, exposures were kept to 4 seconds duration and the CCD camera binned to 2x2 (pixel size 3") to allow more exposures to be obtained before the object passed out of the field of view. A total of 46 images were taken during 18 minutes, 12 of which were used to stack together for the image above. The stacking was done using Astrometrica and precisely takes into account the object's fast motion making it appear as a single small dot but each star in the image is strung out as a series of dots.

Further astrometry was obtained from midnight to 6am UT by Gary Hug (Sandlot Observatory), James McGaha (Sabino Canyon Observatory) and also from the Spacewatch II team again, MPEC 2003-W75 was issued at 06:42UT on 30th November announcing the newly designated NEO 2003 WT153.

2003 WT153 was only about 2.3 times as far away as the Moon at discovery. This had closed to just 2.0 lunar distances by the time it was imaged at Shefford and it was at its closest to Earth less than 24 hours later at a distance of just 1.8 lunar distances. With an absolute magnitude of only +28.0 it is estimated to be somewhere between 6.5 and 15metres in diameter.

Tony Beresford has suggested on the Minor Planet Mailing List that this object is possibly a piece of man made space debris. With perihelion very close to Venus's orbit and aphelion at Earth's, together with its very small size it could be some leftover part of a probe launched from Earth to Venus in the recent past.


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