Small asteroids fly by Earth every week. Once in a while, a large asteroid passes by our planet that we can observe with a small telescope. NASA announced Saturday that a giant space rock measuring 650 meters across is going to fly past Earth on Wednesday, April 19th. But you do not have to prepare for the apocalypse. The asteroid will not collide with our planet.
The asteroid will fly by at 4.6 times the lunar distance
The asteroid, named 2014 JO25, was first spotted in 2014 by astronomers monitoring the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona. At the closest approach, the space body will be 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers) away from Earth. That’s 4.6 times the distance between the moon and Earth. Though 1.1 million miles may seem like a huge distance, it is considered close for an asteroid measuring 650 meters across.
NASA said in a statement it would be the closest approach by any known asteroid of this size or bigger since Toutatis in 2004. The 5-kilometer asteroid had approached within four lunar distances in September 2004. The next encounter with a similar sized asteroid will occur in 2027 when an 800-meter wide asteroid named 1999 AN10 will fly past at just 380,000 kilometers.
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Twice as reflective as the moon
NASA’s Near-Earth Observation (NEO) program searches for asteroids in the solar system that could pose a threat to our planet. Little is known about 2014 JO25’s physical properties. Measurements taken by NASA’s NEOWISE mission revealed that the space rock’s surface is twice as reflective as the moon. It will approach our planet from the direction of the Sun.
Astronomers at NASA predict the asteroid would brighten to magnitude 11. It will be visible in the night sky after April 19th. Skywatchers can see it using a small telescope for one or two nights. After that, it would fade into the distance. The next week’s encounter gives scientists an opportunity to study the asteroid and its characteristics using telescopes around the world.
NASA has planned radar observations at its Goldstone Solar System Radar and the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The radar images could offer a detailed look at its surface. Scientists said the April 19 encounter is the closest this asteroid has come to our planet in more than 400 years. It will not get this close to the Earth again for at least the next 500 years.
A comet will also fly by Earth the same day
On April 19, the same day, a comet named PanSTARRS (C/2015 ER61) will also make its closest approach to the Earth. But the comet will be at a distance of 175 million kilometers. It was discovered in 2015 by the Pan-STARRS NEO survey team. The comet appeared merely as a “faint fuzzball” in the sky at the time. It has brightened significantly following a recent outburst. Astronomers said the comet would be visible with binoculars or a small telescope in the dawn sky.