NASA: Asteroid and comet to fly ‘close’ by Earth Wednesday

Grab your telescope and get ready – an asteroid will make a very close approach to the Earth Wednesday.

Close is a relative term though.

As seen through the Arecibo Observatory’s radiotelescope, asteroid 2014 JO25 is set to make a close pass to Earth Wednesday. Arecibo, Puerto Rico, April 17, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Aricebo Observatory/NASA, St. George News

In astronomical terms, peanut-shaped 2014 JO25 will fly within 4.6 lunar distances of the Earth. Since the distance from the Earth to the Moon is approximately 236,000 miles, this means 2014 JO25 will miss the earth by a margin of 1.1 million miles.

Right next door, really, when you think of the vast universal distances.

The asteroid is approximately 2,000 feet in size. It’s the closest an asteroid of any size has come to the Earth since 3.1 mile wide Asteroid Toutatis waved hello in September 2004 on its way by.

Asteroid 2014 JO25 will be visible starting Wednesday in the night sky in small optical telescopes for one or two nights. Its surface is twice as reflective as the moon, and should brighten to magnitude 11.

Brightness of stars is assigned a number starting with the brightest star at about -1 magnitude. Dimmer stars are zero or positive numbers. The larger the number means the dimmer the star is. A star -1 magnitude is brighter than a star 0 magnitude.


Watch the video animation from NASA showing the flyby in the video player above


The asteroid was discovered in May 2014 by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona — a project of NASA’s NEO Observations Program in collaboration with the University of Arizona.

Small asteroids pass within this distance of Earth several times each week, so there really is nothing to worry about.

The next known encounter of an asteroid of comparable size will occur in 2027 when the half-mile-wide asteroid 1999 AN10 will fly by at one lunar distance, about 236,000 miles (380,000 kilometers).

The encounter is providing an outstanding opportunity to study this asteroid, and astronomers plan to observe it with telescopes around the world to learn as much about it as possible.

Radar observations are planned at NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The resulting radar images could reveal surface details as small as a few meters.

This is the closest 2014 JO25 has come to Earth for about 400 years and will be its closest approach for at least the next 500 years.

Also on Wednesday, the comet PanSTARRS will have its closest approach to Earth, at a very safe distance of 109 million miles.

A faint fuzzball in the sky when it was discovered in 2015 by the Pan-STARRS survey team using a telescope on the summit of Haleakala, Hawaii, the comet has brightened considerably due to a recent outburst and is now visible in the dawn sky with binoculars or a small telescope.

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Email: rwayman@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @NewsWayman

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • John April 19, 2017 at 7:45 am

    For people who have a telescope at least 4-inches in diameter and who want to see it: The inexpensive app SkySafari will show the asteroid among the stars and let you point your telescope precisely to it, and there are detailed maps at the Sky and Telescope website (http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/see-a-potentially-hazardous-asteroid-from-your-backyard, or Google “See a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid From Your Backyard”). It will be at best visibility this evening and you can watch it move. Good luck!

  • sagemoon April 19, 2017 at 9:33 am

    So cool! I love this kind of news.

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