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.
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.
Tags: asteroid, astronomy, constellation, Herculina, meteor, space, Taurus
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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.
Tags: asteroid, impact, science, space
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In 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.
Here is my Weather Network spot on the asteroid flyby.
Tags: asteroid, DA14, NEO
Posted in Meteors, Planets, Solar System | 4 Comments »
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.
“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.
Tags: 2003 AM31, asteroid
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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:
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.
Tags: 2012 KT42, asteroid
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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:
Tags: asteroid, YU55
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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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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
Tags: asteroid, NEO
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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)
Tags: asteroid, Juno
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With just a few days away from a special committee report being handed over to the White House on the future of U.S. human speceflight, rumblings are that NASA’s plans to return humans on to the surface of the Moon by 2020 may not fly in terms of current budget restrictions. So alternatives are being offered and one of them is using the yet-to-be-built Orion spacecraft (BTW – looks a lot like the old Apollo-era capsules – except bigger) to take a human crew to nearby asteroids. Tip of the hat to Nasawatch.com for this find.
These far-off trips would definitely be a move in the right direction in my opinion for a number of reasons. Firstly, they would not only be the next logical step in terms of humans moving farther into deep space by testing technologies used for long-term, long-disance spaceflight, but it would also do humanity a great service – possibly help save our lives even. By studying near-Earth asteroids, we can characterise possible threats from impacts. We can also better understand possible ways of deflecting them in case one of them has Earth in its cross-hairs. After all its not a matter of if an asteroid will hit us, but when. Wouldn’t it just make sense for us to understand these threats and be ready for when we need to act? i know robotic spacecrafts are cheaper but they just can’t do everything a human can do in terms of exploring and analyzing. And honestly if there is going to be a human space program then lets have a goal that serves the greater good and really push the envelope in terms of our understanding of the cosmos.
Finally I think such a bold mission would simply capture people’s imagination. Think of a 3 to 4 week long expedition out to many millions of km from Earth – maybe 10 to 20 times farther than the moon is. Asteroids are the next pitstop in touring the solar system on the cheap. And in the economic and environmental crisis we are facing, it just makes sense to have alternative plans to the Moon that are more useful scientifically, technologically, and economically. It takes a lot more bucks to set up shop on the Moon – and we have been there and done that! Let’s move on to the next step on our way to going to Mars and beyond. Asteroids just make sense.
Astronauts could even land easily, without too much technological challenges in the way, on the asteroid itself because of their extremely weak gravity. We would learn how to live at long distances away from the protection of our planet – a set us up for even more ambitous missions to other planets - which are much more demanding. An exploratory mission like this could even lead to major economical spinoffs down the road in terms of mining asteroids for their rich mineral resources.
If we think out of the box a bit more, an even more exciting possiblity woudl be to set up camp on or around an asteroid and letting it take you for a ride around the solar system as it orbits the Sun. No extra fuel needed – just let the asteroid do the work. By hitching a ride on an asteroid, it could take us to destinations within our solar system that are out of reach. We could use it as a home base, as it flies by other worlds. Possibilities are endless. It will be interesting if this pitch for refocusing on an asteroid mission will get traction.
Posted in Solar System, Space Exploration | 6 Comments »