HOUSTON - While you can't see it with your naked eye, you can see next week's giant asteroid with an amateur telescope. The 2,000 foot wide space rock (as tall as a sky scraper) will pass safely by, nearly 5 times farther than the moon is to Earth, next Wednesday. It'll be visible back backyard astronomers for both Tuesday night and Wednesday night.
At a passing distance around a million miles away, it sounds like it's quite far, but it's actually just a cosmic hair's width considering the infinite vastness of space. It's also a reminder that we need to consider future space-born impacts as a very real possibility during the timeline of humanity on this planet. For perspective, the extinction level event believed to have killed the dinosaurs millions of years ago was also an asteroid, but that one was more than 12 times larger, at 6 miles wide.
To see the asteroid on April 19th, you'll need a telescope because its overall brightness is only half that of Jupiter's 4 largest moons. (Backyard astronomers know what I'm talking about: this asteroid will appear quite dim to the casual observer -- but considering you'll be seeing a real asteroid, it's pretty cool to try!) When describing how bright an object is, astronomers use the term, "magnitude." The smaller the number, the brighter the object. Our moon has a magnitude of -12.75. Jupiter's moons have a magnitude of +5. This asteroid as a magnitude of +11.
Send me pics on my Facebook page if you capture it!
Here's what you'll need to know (sky map) to see it. [Link to EarthSky.org]
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