If you’re lucky enough to survive the full force of Winter Storm Juno, get ready for an out-of-this-world sight. Asteroid 2004 BL86 is scheduled to safely pass by today at a distance roughly three times the distance of Earth to the moon (approximately 745,000 miles or 1.2 million kilometers). According to NASA, this flyby is the “closest by any known space rock this large until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past Earth in 2027.”
Initially discovered in January 2004, amateur astronomers will be able to get a good look at the asteroid using small telescopes and strong binoculars.
“Monday, January 26 will be the closest asteroid 2004 BL86 will get to Earth for at least the next 200 years,” said Don Yeomans, who is retiring as manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, after 16 years in the position. “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.”
NASA’s Deep Space Network and the Arecibo Observatory will keep a keen eye on the asteroid, and scientists are also planning to observe the space rock using microwaves.
“When we get our radar data back the day after the flyby, we will have the first detailed images,” said radar astronomer Lance Benner of JPL, the principal investigator for the Goldstone radar observations of the asteroid. “At present, we know almost nothing about the asteroid, so there are bound to be surprises.”
“I may grab my favorite binoculars and give it a shot myself,” said Yeomans. “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 fueling stops for humanity as we continue to explore our solar system. There is something about asteroids that makes me want to look up.”
This graphic depicts the passage of asteroid 2004 BL86, which will come no closer than about three times the distance from Earth to the moon on Jan. 26, 2015. Due to its orbit around the sun, the asteroid is currently only visible by astronomers with large telescopes who are located in the southern hemisphere. But by Jan. 26, the space rock’s changing position will make it visible to those in the northern hemisphere. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Play animation.