Short of watching disaster flicks such as Deep Impact and Armageddon, how often do we get the chance to see asteroids fly by? Given all the talk about asteroid protection and the knowledge that such cosmic rocks have the capability to do serious damage to Earth and the human race, most people probably don’t see asteroid-viewing as being on the same level as star-gazing, but tonight it will be.
Asteroid 2000 EM26, which, at a diameter of 885 feet, is roughly the size of three football fields, will fly by Earth tonight at about 27,000 mph. Don’t worry — it won’t hit the planet, but it will come close enough (almost nine times as far away as the moon) to provide a pretty cool view. The best part is that the Slooh Space Camera will watch the asteroid for us, and Slooh will air a webcast starting at 9:00 pm EST tonight (you can also watch on Space.com). So hey, you can watch the Olympics on one screen and an asteroid flyby on the other. There’s something apropos about that, don’t you think? Especially since some of those skeleton racers and skiers are going almost as fast as the asteroid.
The flyby is part of a serendipitous commemoration of the meteor that injured more than 1,000 people in Russia on Feb 15, 2013, while scientists were busy looking at asteroid 2012 DA14 that flew safely by Earth on the same day. Maybe the asteroid flying by tonight is a diversion for an even greater celestial event, or maybe there are just so many near-Earth asteroids zooming around that two for the price of one isn’t such a rare thing. Comforting, no? Never fear — NEOWISE, NASA’s best asteroid hunter, is hard at work.
And speaking of the Olympics and the asteroid, Russian gold medal winners on Saturday, February 15 received an extra medal with a piece of the Chelyabinsk meteorite inside.
Other than the meteorite that exploded above Russia last year, the last significant asteroid or comet impact occurred in 1908 in the Tunguska region of Siberia. Accounts of an explosion and fireball were reported, but it took scientists a couple decades to get to that remote region to do some investigating. The natives living on the land thought they had incurred the wrath of the gods and the site wasn’t as the scientists expected — there was no crater, no meteoric fragments, and a stand of trees remained in the middle of an otherwise flattened circular area. No wonder some people think it was an UFO.
Hey, if asteroid 2000 EM26 turns out to be a UFO, at least we’ll all be able to see it for ourselves — that is, until they use the livestream to control our minds.