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NEAR EARTH OBJECTS CLOSE-APPROACH UNCERTAINTIES

This page describes the limits placed on the Near Earth Objects close-approach tables and discusses the uncertainties in those data.
CHARACTERIZING THE UNCERTAINITIES
Perhaps the most important issue to remember when interpreting our NEO close-approach tables is the inherent uncertainty in each NEO's orbit. This uncertainty is related to several parameters used in the orbit determination process including the number of observations (measurements), the time spanned by those observations (data arc), the quality of the observations (e.g. radar vs optical), and the geometry of the observations. Of these parameters, the time spanned by the observations generally has the greatest effect on the orbital uncertainty.

Even though the NEO orbits are uncertain, it is possible to estimate the size of these uncertainties and place limits on the close-approach distances. For example, we provide a nominal distance, and the minimum distance (which is the minimum distance between the 3-sigma Earth target-plane error ellipse and the Earth's surface).

We also note that Earth close-approach statistics for NEOs can change (often by large amounts) as new data become available to update their orbits.

LIMITS APPLIED TO NEO CLOSE-APPROACH DATA
In an effort to include only close-approach data that are reasonably well determined and for which the uncertainties are not overly large, the data presented in our NEO close-approach tables are selected using the following conservative limits. Specifically:
  • only Earth close-approaches whose close-approach time uncertainties are within 10 days (3-sigma), and
  • only Earth close-approaches from the portion of the NEO's orbit where the position uncertainties are within 0.1 AU (3-sigma).
Although these limits could be refined, they are sufficiently conservative to exclude any highly uncertain Earth close-approaches.

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