City-Block Sized Asteroid Whizzing By Earth Tonight
June 14, 2012

City-Block Sized Asteroid Whizzing By Earth Tonight

Lee Rannals for

A huge asteroid the size of a city block will be skimming by Earth on Thursday night at 8:00 eastern time.

The giant space rock is about 1,650-feet wide and is big enough to qualify as a potentially hazardous asteroid.  However, experts stress there is no chance of a collision, and it will be passing Earth at a safe 3 million miles away.

Astronomers in Australia discovered the asteroid 2012 LZ1 on Sunday night, and found that the object is going to offer prime viewing opportunity.

Astronomers in the Canary Islands will be aiming a camera at the asteroid, and streaming its pass live on the Slooh Space Camera website tonight.

NASA tracks every near-Earth object (NEO) that has a chance of colliding with Earth in the next 100 years. The space agency said that the asteroid 2012 DA14 currently has the greatest chance of impacting Earth on or near February 16, 2020. The chance of this asteroid actually contacting our planet is very slim though.

The Catalina Sky Survey uses two telescopes to take images of a selected part of the sky roughly 10 minutes apart. A computer program then uses the images to identify objects moving in a straight line. If the object qualifies as an NEO, the survey reports it to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

"NASA has recognized that over the last seven years, our program has constantly strived to improve its performance, and has collaborated with others to find new ways to exploit the nearly 1,000 images we take every night with our two telescopes in the mountains north of Tucson," Edward Beshore, principal investigator of the Catalina Sky Survey, said in a statement. "I think NASA recognizes the CSS as a valuable service to, well, humanity."

Two weeks ago, a 16-feet wide asteroid missed Earth by 8,900 miles away, hurtling 38,000 miles per hour.  Scientists said that even if that asteroid had collided with our planet, it would have likely burned up in the atmosphere.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that asteroid was the sixth-closest miss on record.

Tonight's asteroid will appear as a 13th magnitude "star," which means it will be unable to be seen by the typical human eye, especially in city lights. A 10th magnitude star is 0.010 percent as bright as Vega, which is one of the brightest stars in the night sky.

Considering how dim the asteroid will be, the best viewing opportunity will be through Slooh, which offers live, celestial event programming.