September 17, 2009

Sky watchers get ready to observe Juno

NASA is alerting Earth-bound sky watchers to a rare event -- the ability to observe the asteroid Juno with only binoculars.

It can usually be seen by a good amateur telescope, but the guy on the street doesn't usually get a chance to observe it, said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This is going to be as bright as it gets until 2018.

Juno is about 145 miles in diameter, or about one-fifteenth the diameter of the moon. It is the 10th largest asteroid yet observed.

The asteroid, which orbits the sun on a track between Mars and Jupiter, will be at its brightest on Sept. 21, when it is zooming around the sun at about 49,000 miles per hour, NASA said. Officials said the asteroid will be about 112 million miles from Earth, so there is no danger it will fall toward our planet.

On or before Sept. 21, look for Juno near midnight a few degrees east of the brighter glow of Uranus and in the constellation Pisces, NASA said. It will look like a gray dot in the sky, and each night at the end of September, it will appear slightly more southwest of its location the night before. By Sept. 25, it will be closer to the constellation Aquarius and best seen before midnight.