April 18, 2017

Massive asteroid will narrowly miss Earth this Wednesday

A fairly large near-Earth asteroid found 3 years ago will travel safely past Earth on April 19 at a range of approximately 1.1 million miles, or around 4.6 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.

While there is no chance for the asteroid to smash into our planet, the pass is particularly close for an asteroid this large.

The asteroid, referred to as 2014 JO25, was found in May 2014 by scientists at the Catalina Sky Survey, a part of NASA's Near Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program. Recent measurements by NASA's NEOWISE mission revealed the asteroid is about 2,000 feet across and has an exterior approximately twice as reflective as the Moon's surface.

The asteroid will travel toward Earth from the direction of the Sun and will become very noticeable in the night sky after April 19. It is expected to brighten to around magnitude 11, which means it might be visible with small amateur telescopes for a night or two before travels too far away, fading into the night sky.

Another Near Miss

Little asteroids pass this far from Earth with regularly. However, this upcoming approach is the nearest by any known asteroid this big since the pass of Toutatis, a 3.1-mile asteroid that soared within approximately four lunar spans in 2004. The next encounter of an asteroid of similar size will take place in 2027 when the half-mile-wide asteroid 1999 AN10 will fly by at about the same distance as the Moon, or nearly 240,000 miles.

The April 19 encounter offers an excellent chance to study this asteroid, and scientists plan to use telescopes around the planet to learn as much as possible. Radar studies are scheduled at NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. In a statement, NASA said the radar data could reveal details on the asteroid’s exterior just a few yards across.

The event on April 19 is the nearest this asteroid has come to our planet for 400 years or more and will be its nearest pass for at least the next five centuries.

Also on April 19, the comet PanSTARRS will make its nearest Earth pass at a distance of 109 million miles. Discovered in 2015 by the Pan-STARRS NEO survey team, the comet has gotten considerably brighter after the recent outburst and is now noticeable in the dawn sky with binoculars or a compact telescope.


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