Monday, November 7, 2011

Space invaders: details on Earth's upcoming close encounter with an asteroid

During the early evening on Tuesday, November 8 (tomorrow if you are reading this on Monday), an asteroid called 2005 YU55 will make a close encounter with Earth.  Now don't worry - NASA has assured us that we are not in harm's way and no species will be extinct Wednesday morning from a collision!  However, it is the first time that an asteroid this large will make a close approach with prior knowledge of it doing so, allowing astronomers a chance to gather valuable data on 20005 YU55 as it zips by.  Here are some factoids:

Name: 2005 YU55
Size: 400 meters (about the size of an aircraft carrier)
Closest approach to Earth: 201,700 miles at 5:28pm CST Tuesday
Distance to the moon from Earth: 252,386 miles (on November 8)
Last Earth approach of an asteroid this large: 1976 (not known until 2000 though)
Next Earth approach of an asteroid this large: 2028

Will Mid-Southerners be able to see it?  Not likely - for two reasons. First, NASA indicates that a mid-size telescope (or better) will be required for backyard astronomers to view it.  Not many of us have that type of instrumentation. Second, if you did, unfortunately the weather will likely not cooperate. A storm system arriving Tuesday night will be throwing a large amount of cloud cover over the Mid-South throughout the day Tuesday. Even with the proper telescope and the knowledge to use it, clouds will likely obscure the phenomena. We'll have to resort to seeing other's reports of it on the news!  Below is an animated image of the path of 2005 YU55 relative to the path of Earth and the moon, courtesy of NASA.

For even more information from NASA on 2005 YU55, watch the two-minute video embedded below.

Information above courtesy and NASA.  Visit these sites for additional info.

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