Asteroid as Large as a Mountain will Fly near Earth this Weekend

On Saturday, August 21, a potentially dangerous asteroid will safely fly just 3.4 million kilometers (2.1 million miles) from Earth, the closest approach in decades. It is only 8.9 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Asteroid 2016 AJ193 is larger than 99 percent of all known objects around the Earth and so it is good to keep an eye on it.

According to NASA spacecraft NEOWISE, the space rock measures 1.37 kilometers (0.85 miles). It is surprisingly dark, reflecting very little light which gives this intimate (and safe) view an important opportunity to study the object better. It was discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and the Rapid Response System (Pan-Stars) facility at the Haleakala Observatory, Hawaii in January 2016. It is important to note that an asteroid with the potential to destroy our planet was discovered only five years ago.

Asteroid as Large as a Mountain will Fly near Earth this Weekend

The asteroid orbits the Sun every 5.9 years outside the orbit of Jupiter and then to the orbit of Venus, with a strong tendency towards the plane of the solar system. The next closest approach to Earth will be on August 19, 2080, where the asteroid will be about twice as far away as Saturday. Professional astronomers will study the object using observations from Spain, Germany, Italy, and Russia using the Goldstone Observatory in California.

The observations will cover the period from 20 August to 24 August, roughly the time that is observable for them. But if you are a fan of astronomy and you have a telescope, you can see it in the sky. Despite its ambiguity, astronomers expect it to be at least 14th brighter during its approach.

Telescopes 20 centimeters (8 inches) or larger should be able to detect it. It will appear in the Lepus constellation near the star Mu Leporis. It’s good to see just before dawn. The rocky space object, which was discovered 20 years ago and tracked year after year, poses no threat of a collision with Earth this year or for the next century, NASA said.

Astronomers named the asteroid 2001 FO32 and said it would cross Earth about 5 1/4 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. “The asteroid is unlikely to travel more than 1.25 million miles closer to Earth,” said Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNES). CNEOS is operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.