A mountain sized asteroid will buzz by Earth tonight
On January 26, the mountain-sized Asteroid 2004 BL86 will pass by Earth, making it the closest call we’ve had from a passing celestial object in the last seven years. The asteroid won’t pose any danger to us, but it will make for some very cool sky watching.
The asteroid will harmlessly pass about 750,000 miles out, or about three times the distance from the Earth to the moon, according to Space.com. When it does pass, NASA will be ready.
Astronomers and scientists alike are looking to monitor Asteroid 2004 BL86 to determine its orbit, among other things. The mountain sized asteroid is massive, about 1,800 feet wide; it’s big enough that it might have its own orbiting bodies. To study it close up, NASA is preparing the Goldstone antenna at NASA’s Deep Space Network in California. A second antenna at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, will join it in sending radio signals at the asteroid, bouncing them back to the Earth off the rock.
The result will be a series of black and white images that will reveal incredible detail of the object, more than washed out colors could show. The asteroid will also be able to be seen using conventional means, including a telescope, and possibly even binoculars.
NASA will continuously track the object from January 27 through February 1, for about five to six hours each night.
“The thing that excites us the most is that we don’t know anything about it, but it’s likely that we’ll learn a great deal and see a lot of detail,” Lance Benner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said. “Whenever one of these objects comes really close like this, it offers such an outstanding opportunity — we almost always see things we haven’t seen before. And so we’re expecting some kind of surprise.”
Benner went on to say that monitoring the asteroid could also help companies that are planning to commercially mine asteroids in the future.
You may be able to see Asteroid 2004 BL86 from certain locations with your naked eye, but bring a telescope to increase your chances.