Ontario Fireball Sets Off Meteorite Hunt

Written by The Night Sky Guy on March 21, 2014 – 2:28 pm -

This is a shot of the bright metoer that streaked across southwestern Ontario on March 18, 2014 as captured by special all-sky camera monitors. Credit: University of Western Ontario

This is a shot of the bright meteor that streaked across southwestern Ontario on March 18, 2014 as captured by special all-sky camera monitors. Credit: University of Western Ontario

On Tuesday, March 18 at 10:24 pm EDT a super-bright fireball lit up southwestern Ontario skies.

Here is a photo captured by Univ. Western Ontario all-sky camera of the meteor event. Researchers now estimate it was a meteor the size of a basketball that entered Earth`s atmosphere. The cosmic intruder spend about 5 seconds traveling through North American skies before the air pressure pulverized it. Meteor experts say this is the first time in a half decade that such a bright event happened in Ontario.

The space rock most likely fragmented with pieces probably making it to the ground. Now the hunt is on for meteorites just 5 km NW of St. Thomas, Ontario. According to researchers the odds of finding a fragment of the meteor are small since it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack but the general public has the best shot.

Stay tuned for more details as they are made available.

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Glimpse Giant Asteroid Glide Through Taurus

Written by The Night Sky Guy on February 6, 2014 – 4:22 pm -

A giant asteroid, first seen 110 years ago, is making a rare appearance for backyard astronomers this month.

Usually so far away from Earth that only very large telescopes can spot it, 532 Herculina will be coming closer to Earth than usual, thereby allowing small backyard scopes to observe it as it sails through the horns of Taurus, the bull constellation in the evening skies.  Making the hunt even easier, the 230 km wide space rock will be gliding past a naked-eye star this week and then a famous supernova remnant- the Crab nebula.

Path of asteroid Herculina within Taurus Constellation in February 2014

Path of asteroid Herculina within Taurus Constellation in February 2014

Despite its high asteroid number – referring to the order of its discovery – Herculina probably ranks in the top 10 in terms of mass. The giant rock has also been at a center of a mystery surrounding the possibility of it having an orbiting satellite asteroid. Despite multiple observations by amateur astronomers watching Herculina during occultations of stars back in the late 1970’s and 80’s, Hubble Space Telescope failed to find any evidence of a moon when it looked in 1993.

Miss this encounter with Herculina and you will have to wait until 2019.

Check out my full viewer’s guide with finder charts at National Geographic News.

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Russian Meteor Blast Was Surprisingly Big

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 6, 2013 – 6:00 am -

Meteor streaking across the sky in Russia. Courtesy of Tumblr

Meteor streaking across the sky in Russia. Courtesy of Tumblr

Earlier this year in February the world had a wake-up call when a giant 17 ton rock from space entered the atmosphere in Siberia and created a giant air-blast that literally was felt around the world.

A new study was released this week that analyzed this meteor impact and the results show that when the hypersonic meteor imploded in the upper atmosphere, it created a shockwave that propagated across the globe – not once but twice.

Find out how this big blast ranks in terms of meteor encounters in recent history and how often such cosmic events may occur, in my story for National Geographic News.

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Asteroid Too Close for Comfort

Written by The Night Sky Guy on February 15, 2013 – 12:14 am -

2012DA141-590x444In a rare cosmic encounter, an asteroid will buzz Earth this Friday, missing our planet by a mere 17,200 miles (27,700 kilometers). Designated 2012 DA14, the space rock is approximately 150 feet (45 meters) across, and astronomers are certain it will zip harmlessly past our planet—but not before making history. It will pass within the orbits of many communications satellites, making it the closest flyby on record.

For more information on what this asteroid pass means for us Earthlings check out my story at National Geographic.

Here is my Weather Network spot on the asteroid flyby.

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Watch Asteroid Close Encounter with Earth Today

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 22, 2012 – 1:42 pm -

An asteroid the size of a city block will be flying by the Earth- Moon system today (Sunday). Dubbed 2003 AM31 this 800 meter wide space rock will be zipping by at just under 14 times the Earth-Moon distance and there is no chance for collision. First spotted in 2003, astronomers have been tracking this flying mountain of rock using the exquisitely sensitive  Arecibo radio dish in Puerto Rico. The asteroid unfortunately is too faint, at 18.2 magnitude, to be seen by backyard scopes, however everyone around the world will get a chance to watch the encounter LIVE through the internet thanks to online telescope venture Slooh broadcasting views from giant observatories around the world.

Here is the official info:

Slooh’s Patrick Paolucci and Paul Cox will join Bob Berman from Astronomy Magazine and Matt Francis from Prescott Observatory.

Screenshot of LIVE broadcast credit: SLOOH

“One of our missions at Slooh is to provide the public with free, live views on fascinating celestial happenings,” says Patrick Paolucci, President at Slooh. “Near-Earth Asteroid 153958 (2003 AM31) represents 1 of approximately 9,000 whizzing past Earth at any given moment and we wanted to highlight this one as it’s only 13.7 lunar distances from Earth and well over one city block big – similar to Near-Earth Asteroid LZ1 which zoomed past us unexpectedly mid June .”

Bob Berman says, “Near Earth Objects are no longer treasures only for the paranoid, or for those who secretly and strangely are rooting for an early apocalypse. The entire astronomical community has reversed its thinking about them over the past few decades. Instead of living on an “island Earth” with little or no connection with other celestial objects, we now feel that collisions with comets or asteroids change the evolution of our biosphere, and maybe even seeded our world with the amino acids that started life long ago. In other words, these are important entities. Not to mention, there’s always that exciting little hint of danger.”

Two Shows on Sunday, July 22nd to coincide with close-approach:

Slooh will use Canary Islands Observatory off the coast of Africa for shows #1 and #2, and Prescott Observatory in Arizona for Show #2.

Show #1: 2012-07-22 23:30 UTC Times around the World:

Show #2: 2012-07-23 03:00 UTC Times around the World:

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Two Meteors Make Close Approach

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 28, 2012 – 3:05 pm -

Earlier Monday (May 28) a 26 meter wide, newly discovered asteroid dubbed 2012 Kp24 safely zipped by Earth at about 14,000 miles distance.  At its closest point it was more than one full diameter of Earth away from us. Earlier in the day backyard astronomers managed to snag an image of the interloper while it was still 350,000 km from Earth using his telescope and CCD imager.

Hot on the heels is a fresh discovery made in the early hours of Monday that is even a closer call,  a smaller asteroid 2012 KT42. While the orbital data is still preliminary it looks like this mini-van sized space rock will pass unusually close to Earth – about 8,700 miles above our atmosphere. This puts it at about 5% the distance of the Moon and makes it the 6th closest approach of an asteroid ever recorded by NASA.

Check out the full table of close calls here.

At its closest approach to Earth at about 3 am ET May 29th it will become about 12th Magnitude and be in the constellation Pisces , putting it in the range of backyard telescopes and an easy target for scopes with CCD imagers.  For those interested in plotting it on sky charts here are its orbital elements. Also fro more images and animation of the meteor click here. Its moving so fast – at about 2 arc-minutes per second – that you should be able to detects movement at the telescope eyepiece.

Here are two wide-angle star charts to give an idea where in the sky it will be traveling . Viewing Tip: Best chance to catch this small asteroid is to use a medium to large telescope (8 to 16 inches) at peak brightness. Which means that the Pisces constellation needs to be above your local horizon at 3 am Eastern Time (12 am Pacific Time)…



UPDATE:  forgetaboutit.. updated orbital data makes transit unviewable as disk is 0.006″ not 6″!  Also reports indicate that the asteroid will transit in front of the sun at 10:10 UT May 29th. It’s silhouette would be teeny-tiny at only 6 arc-seconds…about as small as the disk of planet Mars can appear through a telescope.

Here is where it would be visible:

credit: Aldo Vitagliano

While this all sounds scary to some folks, there is really not much to worry about with this rock. Even if the orbital data does end up being tweaked such that it is on a collision course – it’s way to small to cause any damage as it would probably break up in the atmosphere before it makes it to the ground. Observers would mostly likely only experience a super-bright meteor- that’s it.

Also this two back to back findings may seem odd at first glance but the reason we are hearing more about these close call asteroids is that our telescope surveys are becoming more sensitive to smaller objects farther out than ever before and are able to hunt down those that are only the size of cars to houses- which there are many, many more of than the larger, potentially dangerous ones.

While we did not get much warning about this asteroid , just remember it’s too small to hurt us.  But today is a great proof of concept for these telescopic surveys that catalog potentially hazardous asteroids – they do in fact work. And when there is the ‘big one’ heading our way – the idea is that they find it in time for us to do something about it.

You can think of today’s close call as target practice for asteroid hunters.

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Home Movies of Asteroid YU55 Hit the Web

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 9, 2011 – 10:50 am -

Within a matter of hours after the asteroid’s close encounter with Earth on Nov.8th, backyard astronomers began posting their videos they managed to snag of the interloper. Its amazing to think that everyday people with the right equipment – motor driven telescope with CCD guiders and cameras – are able to really get such good quality footage of the giant space rock zipping through the starry skies.

Footage like these really stand as testament to the long hours amateur astronomers spend with their telescopes and associated gadgets, practicing, tweaking their equipment,  and going through night after night of trial and error, in the hopes of refining their techniques to get that moment of nirvana and obtain that special ‘wow shot’. My tip of the hat to you all!

Check them out here:

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Space Rock Close Encounter Tuesday Night

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 7, 2011 – 6:56 pm -

A giant asteroid by the name of 2005YU55 the size of an aircraft carrier (400 meters) is about enter the Earth-moon system and and become the biggest near-miss asteroid ever.

On Tuesday, November 8 at 6:28 pm ET (23:28 Universal Time) it will be 319,000 km from our planet — closer than the Moon’s orbit. Professional astronomers around the world will closely follow the asteroid as it glides across the sky.

Here is a neat NASA video explaining everything we know now about the asteroid:

If you have clear skies Tuesday night, know your way around the sky, and have a big enough telescope you can actually spot this interloper zip across the starry skies. Check out my quick viewer’s guide to the asteroid pass and upcoming views of Venus and Mercury close together.

Discovered nearly six years ago by Robert McMillan at Steward Observatory’s Spacewatch Telescope in Arizona, 2005 YU55 has been this way before. In April 2010, it ventured close enough for detailed radar probing by the giant radio dish at Arecibo, Puerto Rico. It also approached even closer in 1976, though it went by undetected.

Professional astronomers have recruited advanced backyard amateurs to do precision brightness measurements of the asteroid during its flyby; more information:

– with reporting from Sky & Telescope.

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Asteroid will Buzz Earth Tonight

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 7, 2010 – 2:02 pm -

A newly discovered asteroid is about to make a relatively close flyby between our planet and the Moon at 7:06 pm ET Thursday evening. Called 2010 GA6 this 22 meter wide space rock was discovered with ground telescopes at the Catalina Sky Survey in Tuscon, Arizona. Fortunately for Earthlings this asteroid will have no chance of collision with Earth, passing about 359,000 km away at its closest – about 9/10th the distance to our Moon, but it does highlight the need for keeping our telescopes glued on the sky for future hazardous asteroids that are surely lurking in space and may have Earth in their cross-hairs.

According to NASA researchers,  cosmic close calls like this are relatively common. “Fly bys of near-Earth objects within the moon’s orbit occur every few weeks,” said Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Read the original NASA news announcement

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Asteroid Hits Primetime Viewing

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 21, 2009 – 1:00 pm -

Click to enlarge;Courtesy of NASA

Click to enlarge;Courtesy of NASA

The 10th largest asteroid known will be making a bright appearance in the nighttime skies this week. Whirling around the Sun between the planets Mars and Jupiter, inside the asteroid belt, Juno is a state sized rock that measures about 234 km wide – that’s about one-tenth the size of our Moon.  Tonight, September 21st it will be the brightest as it makes its closest pass to Earth at about 180 million km away, making Juno clearly visible through even binoculars  at magnitude 7.6. According to the NASA website, “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. 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.” Sky and Telescope offers a more detailed skychart of Juno’s path across the sky here (PDF file)

So head outside tonight or the next few days, cause there won’t be a better chance to spot Juno for a while. In fact this will be its brightest appearance until 2018!  Good luck asteroid hunting!

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