Mr. Big, 500 meters asteroid
It is expected on Monday, January 26th, the apex of a flyby between 2004 BL86 – an asteroid of 500 meters – and our planet. For an object of this size, it will be the closest approach between now and 2027. It will reach magnitude 9, visible even with amateur equipment.
Never seen an asteroid before? The opportunity to do that will be presented in late January, when 2004 BL86, a boulder the estimated size to be around 500 meters, will pass at about 1.2 million kilometers from Earth. Not just one touch, let’s face it, as roughly equivalent to three times the distance that separates us from the moon: thus a margin of safety well above the threshold even more pessimistic. But a passage worth noting, if only for its rarity: to see another object of comparable size so closely intersect the Earth’s orbit, it will be necessary to wait for the meeting with 1999 AN10, in calendar for the month of August 2027.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
“For the asteroid 2004 BL86, Monday, January 26 will be the closest approach of the next 200 years,” says Don Yeomans, the Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA. “There is a threat to the Earth, at least not in the near future, but it is still in a relatively close flyby of an asteroid by relatively large mass, so it is a unique opportunity to observe and find out more.”
Just to find out more about the scientific side, NASA intends to follow the passage of BL86 also in the microwave band, as they were taking advantage of the huge radar antennas in Goldstone, in California, and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico . “The day after the flyby, when the data will arrive, we will be able to extract the first detailed images,” promises Lance Benner of JPL, who has been entrusted with the task of coordinating the radar observations of BL86 with the antenna in Goldstone, “and do not rule out surprises, as in today’s asteroids, we know practically nothing.”
But it will not be reserved for radio astronomy observation: BL86 fact should be large enough, and pass close enough, to become visible to any amateur astronomer with a small telescope or even common binoculars. The perfect time for observation should be some time after the peak of the flyby (which will take place at 17:20 Italian time), on the night between 26 and 27 January.
An opportunity that even scientists will not miss. “I think I’ll take the binoculars and I’ll give it a look,” says Yeomans, “because asteroids have something special. Not only have they brought the building blocks of life on Earth, and most of the water: in the future may become valuable mines for the extraction of minerals and other vital natural resources. And they will be the “gas stations” for humanity in the future voyages of exploration of the solar system. In short, there is something, in asteroids, that makes me want to watch them. “