Asteroid Fly-by!

A large asteroid will skim past the Earth next week… close enough that Earthlings will be able to see it with just a pair of strong binoculars!

But don’t worry – there’s no danger of it hitting the Earth.  The asteroid is called 2004 BL86 – not the flashiest of names, but indicative of when it was discovered, 2004.  It is a medium-sized near-Earth asteroid and is estimated to be about a half-kilometer — nearly 6 football fields — across.

Credit: NASA

ImageCredit: NASA JPL

This near-Earth asteroid will likely pass about 745,000 miles away from the Earth when it makes its closest approach, which is about three times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. This is still close enough that some people will be able to see it with just a good pair of strong binoculars, though a decent backyard telescope will give you a much better view.

This artist's concept illustrates an asteroid belt around the bright star Vega. Evidence for this warm ring of debris was found using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, and the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory, in which NASA plays an important role.  Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This artist’s concept illustrates an asteroid belt around the bright star Vega. Evidence for this warm ring of debris was found using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, and the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, in which NASA plays an important role.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The asteroid will make its closest graze on January 26, at 16:20 GMT, which for most of the U.S., is during the daylight hours. If you want to have any chance of seeing it, you should wait until that evening and point your optical device toward the part of the sky where you’ll find the constellation of Cancer. The best window of opportunity will be from about 7 p.m. through after Midnight EST.

The asteroid will be passing by much more slowly than a meteor would, so don’t expect to see a bright streak across the sky. Despite barreling through its orbit at more than 35,000 mph, the asteroid will appear like a dimly lit, slow moving star – moving about the width of the full moon every 10 minutes or so.

If your local weather doesn’t cooperate with the viewing-schedule, you’ll have to wait about 200 years. 

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