Imagine that you were an astronomer who was tracking the path of an asteroid through space to make sure it didn’t hit the Earth. Could you use scientific notation to express the distance between the asteroid and the Earth?
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The situation described above has actually occurred. In June of 2013, astronomers tracked an asteroid on its path between the Earth and the moon. They determined that this asteroid, named 2013 LR6, would safely pass between the Earth and the moon. On June 7, 2013 at 9:42 p.m. PDT, 2013 LR6 did exactly that! Below is an illustration of its path.
Looking at this diagram, it appears that the asteroid might actually have collided with Earth. However, the astronomers tracking 2013 LR6 calculated that, although it was much closer than most, the asteroid would be miles from Earth at its closest point, enough for safe passage between the Earth and the moon. This is one of the smaller distances encountered in astronomy, a field that deals, after all, with the vastness of space.
See for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wonqndko7pQ
Check out the first link below to learn more about how astronomers use scientific notation. Read the article at the second link for details about asteroid 2013 LR6’s close encounter with Earth. The last website presents various facts and figures on different planets (use the sidebar on the left to navigate between planets)—you’ll see that the statistics are expressed in scientific notation!