Earth is to have its closest shave with an asteroid to date on 27 January, when asteroid 2004 BL86 whizzes by the planet. Stargazers might be able to spot the asteroid that night, too.
First discovered back in 2004, the asteroid will fly past Earth at a blistering speed 1.2m km off a course that would lead to everything on our planet being obliterated.
However, those fearing an Armageddon or Deep Impact-like scenario can rest easy given NASA’s confirmation that its distance comparable to three-times the distance between Earth and the moon puts it out of harm’s way.
Given its close proximity to Earth, astronomers have plans to analyse the asteroid measuring 0.5km across with high-powered microwaves and will attempt to acquire science data and radar-generated images of the asteroid over the course of a few days.
An animation showing how close 2004 BL86 will come within reach of Earth. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech
While NASA’s most powerful equipment will be measuring every nook and cranny of the ancient space-faring rock, those on Earth who wish to view the 2004 BL86 will get their chance with the help of a small telescope or even a pair of strong binoculars.
However, its crown as the closest recorded fly-by won’t be held for too long, as far as time is comparable in space, as asteroid 1999 AN10 is due to come as close as 30,000km in 2027.
Speaking last week about the upcoming space spectacle, Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office said of his plans on 27 January, “I may grab my favourite binoculars and give it a shot myself. Asteroids are something special.
“Not only did asteroids provide Earth with the building blocks of life and much of its water, but in the future, they will become valuable resources for mineral ores and other vital natural resources. They will also become the fuelling stops for humanity as we continue to explore our solar system. There is something about asteroids that makes me want to look up."
Asteroid's near-miss with Earth image via Shutterstock