A massive asteroid dubbed 2004 BL86 will be passing Earth approximately 745,000 miles away and will be visible in our skies today from 8 pm EST till around 1 am EST. The asteroid will be heading northward and will skim the eastern edge of a star cluster called the Beehive or Messier 44 around midnight to 12:30 pm EST. It will be observable to anyone who has a small telescope 3 to 4 inches in diameter and those who own strong binoculars!

Image Courtesy of NASA


Astronomers estimate that the asteroid is about a third of a mile or 1,500 feet in length and will be the largest asteroid to pass this close to Earth until 2027, when asteroid 1999 AN10 flies by. While it poses no immediate danger to us residents of our blue planet, it will provide scientists ample opportunity to study and learn from this relatively large asteroid.

Initially discovered on January 30, 2004 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey in White Sands, New Mexico. As the asteroid approaches closer, astronomers will have ample opportunity to study the planetary object using microwaves. Both NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna located in Goldstone, CA and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico will be attempting to gather scientific data and radar-generated images in which they hope gather new data on the relatively unknown asteroid.

Image Courtesy of Sky & Telescope


According to the manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object program, Don Yeomans, the reason why studying asteroids seem so important is because asteroids were essentially “the building blocks” for life on Earth but will eventually become a source of mineral ores and natural resources for us. Researchers also hope that these asteroids will become fueling stations as we forge onward through space.

There are currently more than 11,000 asteroids that NASA that pass close to Earth due to the damage one entering our atmosphere may cause, many 0.65 miles or longer in length that orbit in close proximity to Earth. An example of the damage an asteroid can cause was seen when a relatively small asteroid exploded in the atmosphere above Chelyabinsk, Russia that injured more than 1,500 people due to flying debris and glass shards. One close to the size of 2004 BL86 was also responsible for Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and climate change that is believed to have ended the age of the dinosaurs close to 65 million years ago.

For those in the area (who are not snowed in completely), take some time out in the evening hours to look up into the skies for an exciting planetary event. We have included the basic trajectories of the asteroid and hope that you are able to witness such an awesome sight!

[Feature image AFP/NASA]

ABOUT >> Mac Lemons
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