Saturday, June 25, 2011
Good news - an asteroid has just been discovered that will pass by the Earth at a razor-thin distance of just 12,000 km on 27 June, a Monday. That distance is a full twenty times closer than that separating us from the moon.
The asteroid itself is not very large, about 7 to 15 metres or so, which is small enough that it would break up in the atmosphere if it had hit us. This is what makes the news just good instead of excellent, as a direct hit with no chance of damage but lots of news for a full three days would be the perfect way to get nearly the entire planet thinking about the sky and what's above it the entire time.
The asteroid itself has an orbit much like our own, and also with very little inclination as you can see when you go here and turn it on its side. Its orbit looks like this:
An encounter at this distance will permanently alter the asteroid's orbit too, something like this:
This image shows it viewed from the side, so it is passing over the south pole.
But for an even more impressive demonstration of this, see this animation, which comes from here.
So keep an eye out for some videos on Monday of the asteroid as it passes by. I don't see it yet on the schedule for Arecibo but I would be surprised if plans haven't already been laid to observe it from there as well.