Summon Asteroid! Space Rock Looks Like Dungeons & Dragons Dice

Asteroid 2017 BQ6 art
This composite of 11 images of asteroid 2017 BQ6 was generated with radar data collected using NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California's Mojave Desert on Feb. 5, 2017, about 5 hours before the asteroid's closest approach to Earth. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR)

Fancy a little role-playing in space? An asteroid that whizzed by Earth on Feb. 7 looks very much like a die used in the complex role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.

The fantasy tabletop game, first published in 1974, requires players to use several polyhedral (many-sided) dice. Asteroids come in all shapes and sizes, but asteroid 2017 BQ6 is somewhat unique with its multiple, relatively flat sides separated by distinct creases, similar to a multisided die.

"The radar images show relatively sharp corners, flat regions, concavities, and small bright spots that may be boulders," said Lance Benner of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who leads the agency's asteroid radar research program, in a statement from the agency. He added that the asteroid, to him, looks like a D&D die.

This composite of 25 images of asteroid 2017 BQ6 was generated with radar data collected using NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California's Mojave Desert, about 2 hours before the asteroid's closest approach to Earth. The images have resolutions as fine as 12 feet (3.75 meters) per pixel. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR)

The shape was revealed after the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California took radar images of the asteroid. The space rock is about 660 feet (220 meters) across and rotates once every 3 hours. The images show features as small as 12 feet (3.75 m) across.

The asteroid came close to Earth by celestial standards: it flew by about 6.6 times the distance between the Earth and the moon. The NASA-funded Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) Project found the small world on Jan. 26. Asteroid 2017 BQ6 made its closest approach to Earth at 1:36 a.m. EST (0636 GMT) on Feb. 7, at a distance of 1.6 million miles (2.5 million kilometers.)

"Radar has been used to observe hundreds of asteroids," NASA said in the same statement. "When these small, natural remnants of the formation of the solar system pass relatively close to Earth, deep space radar is a powerful technique for studying their sizes, shapes, rotation, surface features, and roughness, and for more precise determination of their orbital path."

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: