How to track the asteroid flying by the Earth & other astronomical events in Southern California (Video)

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An asteroid the size of half a football field will whiz by Earth Friday, according to NASA's JPL Near Earth Object Program Office researchers. The giant space rock – 2012 DA14, as it's been named by astronomers who discovered it last year – is one of the largest known asteroids to approach our planet.

Here's the NASA JPL Ustream:

Live broadcast by Ustream

Traveling through space at a speed of 5 miles per second, 2012 DA14 is expected to be at its closest to the surface over the ocean off Indonesia's Sumatra islands on Friday around 11:25 a.m. PST and continue in a northward direction. Unfortunately, that's daytime for those in the Western Hemisphere, including Hawaii and Alaska.

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People in Eastern Europe, Australia or the southern parts of Africa and Asia will be in luck. Though the asteroid is not bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, those with binoculars or a telescope can see 2012 DA14 as a point of light across the sky. Check JPL's Horizon Web site for minute-by-minute guidance on where to find it. 

For the rest of us in the continental United States, you can listen to commentary from NASA researchers.

This is the closest an asteroid of this size will approach our planet for at least 40 years, according to JPL's Near-Earth Object Program Office researchers. 

How to follow the asteroid:

Has news of the celestial fly-by inspired you to do some star-gazing in Southern California? You can see something far bigger and brighter than an asteroid: The planet Mercury is visible this month in the early evening skies, about half an hour after sunset on the west-southwest horizon. Use a star chart or a smartphone app like Google's Sky Map to help find the direction.

By evening, you can catch Jupiter and Saturn, too. The Griffith Observatory is featuring Jupiter on their public telescopes this week. 

Other star-gazing opportunities in Southern California:

  • Find Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn in the night skies. Where to go? Check the Clear Sky Chart for local light pollution ratings and foggy sky forecasts. The Griffith Observatory telescopes are open to the public until 9:30 p.m. The LA Astronomical Society's public star party at Griffith Observatory will be held this Saturday as well. 
  • Ventura County Astronomical Society's monthly public meeting on Friday features Dr. Marc Rayman of NASA/JPL, who will discuss the Dawn Mission to the Asteroid Belt at Moorpark College. Meeting is open to the public. 
  • Mt. San Antonio College Planetarium in Walnut regularly hosts educational programs for children and adults. This Friday, learn about how the Egyptians mapped the stars at their on campus planetarium.
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