An Asteroid Will Be Making A Close Call Later This Month, And It Will Be Visible With Backyard Telescopes

An asteroid is heading this way, and it’s a big one.

OK, so asteroids are always heading this way. But this particular asteroid, lovingly named 2004 BL86 by people who get paid to come up with such names, is remarkable for two reasons. First, it’s huge (as asteroids go); and second, it’s coming rather close (again, as asteroids go).

According to IFLScience (NOTE: The name of the website actually contains a vulgarity that won’t be printed in the Inquisitr), the asteroid in question is between 400-900 meters (1300-2900 feet) across. That’s big; by comparison, the meteorite that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013, damaging some 1,500 buildings and injuring some 500 people, is was estimated to be one-twentieth that size, according to Russia Today.

Not only is Asteroid 2004 BL86 big, it’s coming very close. Scientists measure asteroid approaches in Lunar Distance (LD) — one LD is the distance between the Earth and the Moon, which is about 348,000 kilometers (about 239,000 miles). Scientists consider an asteroid “close” if it comes within about 19.5 LD; Asteroid 2004 BL86 will come in at about three LD.

For such an exceptionally large asteroid to pass so exceptionally close to the Earth, a rare opportunity will be available to backyard astronomers later this month. Beginning in the evening of January 26 and into the morning of January 27, the asteroid will be at peak brightness, at magnitude 8.8. As asteroids go, that’s bright, but not bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. However, most backyard telescopes — and even off-the-shelf binoculars — will make it visible to anyone who knows where (and when) to look.

At about 4:00 A.M. Greenwich Mean Time (11:00 P.M. Eastern Time), the asteroid will be at its most visible over Europe, Africa, and North and South America. Australians and east Asians won’t be so lucky; they’ll have to look a few hours earlier, and the asteroid won’t be as bright.

To see the asteroid, make sure you’re away from light pollution (that is, city lights). Look to the constellations Hydra, Cancer, and Leo, as the asteroid moves about four degrees every hour through the course of the night. Or, you can just watch real-time images and commentary on your computer via the Virtual Telescope.

In the extremely unlikely event that this asteroid were to hit the Earth, the effects would be devastating: global firestorms, an impact winter, horrific tsunamis (if it landed in an ocean).Rest assured, however, that scientists have crunched the numbers and confirmed that Asteroid 2004 BL86 poses no threat to the Earth.

[Image courtesy of: YouTube]