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Giant asteroid will make its closest approach to Earth this month

Clear skies on Jan 26 could give you a rare opportunity of observing a rare look at a huge asteroid flying past Earth at 56,000km/h. This asteroid is known as 2004 BL86 and it is not coming back to Earth for nearly another 200 years. It was first discovered in 2004 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program, a combined project between NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which hunts for near-Earth objects. This asteroid is supposed to be about 0.5 to 1 kilometre in diameter and is projected to pass the Earth at a distance of 1.2 million kilometres. It will be the closest asteroid of this huge size to come past Earth until the projected fly-by of a new rock, called 1999 AN10, on August 7, 2027.

So How can you see it?

To see asteroid 2004 BL86 NASA’s guidance is to use a telescope or a decent pair of binoculars. On its nearby approach, where it will be at its peak, the best watching will be done from the northern hemisphere mostly. For the southern hemisphere, it will be quite a bit fainter, but still possible to spot. Quite clear conditions are necessary and it’s suggested to get out of any city if you can.  After sunset on January 26, at nearly 9pm, 2004 BL86 will be observable towards the east, close the constellation Hydra. At this instant point it will only be at visual degree 10.4. It will appear as a very pale star. Simon O'Toole, a research astronomer at the Australian Astronomical Observatory, states that it will be stirring quite gently across the sky.

So what’s the big deal about 2004 BL86?

Asteroids this big size are not a common occurrence. Dr Duffy says “The idea that you can have something so large at such incredible speed, and if you didn’t have NASA, you wouldn’t even know it was there,” NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico will be using their radars to generate comprehensive pictures of the asteroid as it glides so close past Earth. With more thorough information, NASA will be able to understand a more precise orbit for the asteroid, to conclude whether it could be a potential danger in the future. Life on Earth may have initiated from an asteroid just like this one. So it is quite important to study as much as we can about these objects whenever we have an opportunity such as this.
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