Amateur astronomers are in for a treat as they can observe a potentially hazardous – and currently, the largest – asteroid to safely pass by our planet, by using their simple apparatus.
Asteroid 2004 BL86 will make its closest pass by Earth at the distance of 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers), according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. This distance is about three times the distance from moon to our planet.
What makes this event historic is the fact that this asteroid is the largest known space rock to fly past Earth until Asteroid 1999 AN10 passes by in 2027.
“Monday, January 26 will be the closest asteroid 2004 BL86 will get to Earth for at least the next 200 years," said Don Yeomans, the retiring manager of NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "And while it poses no threat to Earth for the foreseeable future, it's a relatively close approach by a relatively large asteroid, so it provides us a unique opportunity to observe and learn more."
This simply means the current population of Earth would not get a chance to witness this kind of event again.
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The astronomers themselves have limited knowledge about this specific asteroid, so it would serve as a better chance for them to learn more about the rock – its exact size, surface, etc. However, from its reflected brightness, experts estimate the asteroid is about a third of a mile (0.5 kilometers) in size.
"At present, we know almost nothing about the asteroid, so there are bound to be surprises," said NASA radar astronomer Lance Benner in a statement released by The Jet Propulsion Lab.
"For objects that get this close, that are this large, the radar observations are really analogous to a spacecraft flyby in terms of the caliber of the data that we can get," he added. "It's expected to be one of the best radar-imaging targets of this calendar year."
Luckily, the scientists at NASA won’t be the only ones to witness this historic event. The asteroid would be easily visible through a simple telescope or a strong pair of binoculars. Those who possess neither can simply watch it online since The Virtual Telescope Project will live-stream it on their website.
The asteroid was discovered on Jan. 30, 2004, by a telescope of the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research in New Mexico.
Asteroid 2004 BL86 is also present in the list of potentially hazardous asteroids in our solar system.