Sorry it’s a bit short notice, folks, but if you’re lucky enough to have clear skies tonight, and have a half-decent pair of binoculars, you might get to see an asteroid passing damn close to the Earth !!
It’s called (as if it mattered) 2012 DA 14 – and this is a pretty unusual event. The object, an NEO, or Near Earth Object, will be less than 28,000 km from the Earth at its closest. And it’s the brightest of such objects to be seen in our lifetimes.
28,000 km might seem a long way … but in Astronomical terms, that’s a hair’s breadth away from a pretty catastrophic collision. That’s closer than our geo-stationary man-made satellites, which handle communications around the world these days. And much closer than Moon. So, although there is no cause for alarm this time, there is no room for complacency as far as Earth-Strike is concerned. Astronomers have only recently been on the case as far as looking for possibly dangerous objects on a collision course with Earth. So far, the news is good, but nobody is quite sure that we have seen every possible candidate.
So this is quite an exciting thing to see. It’s only 7th magnitude, so binoculars will be needed (on a firm tripod, or forget it !) – but if we know where to look at the right time (about 9.30 pm), we ought to see a star-like object moving at the rate of two Moon-diameters per minute – quite fast – through a constellation most of us know how to find, looking towards the North – THE PLOUGH.
Click here to see the BAA’s blog on the subject …
http://britastro.org/blog/ <No longer available>
And here is their very useful map, showing the path of the asteroid. The best time to find it might be about 9.35 pm when it crosses over the ‘handle’ of the Plough.
http://www.britastro.org/~rmiles/Images/2012DA14_UKchart_2100-0100UT.png <No longer available>
Here is my hastily coloured version – which might be easier to use at night … the Plough is in Green.
Good luck !