Environment & Science

Asteroid flyby: How to spot the space rock named 2004 BL86

An artist's rendering of an asteroid flying be close to Earth.
An artist's rendering of an asteroid flying be close to Earth.

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Monday January 26th an asteroid is flying unusually close to Earth.

Don't panic. Everything is fine. No need to call Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck.

The space rock, dubbed 2004 BL86, will safely pass us at a distance of roughly 745,000 miles, or approximately 3 times the distance of the Earth to the moon.

While it poses no threat to life on Earth, it will make for some great sky watching. After all, objects this size typically only fly this close once a decade.

You will need some decent binoculars or a small telescope to see it, according to Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

It'll be at it's brightest around 8 pm PT and should be easy to spot. To find it, follow these steps:

You can use the following star cart as a guide.

The red line above represents the path of asteroid 2004 BL86.

Each green dot marks where it will be at four hour intervals. But keep in mind, the times are presented in GMT, so you need to subtract 8 hours to find out the time on the west coast.

"It will be moving quite rapidly," noted Brozovic. "It is going to be moving about four to five diameters of the full moon within one hour."

Brozovic and her colleagues plan to use a radar telescope at the Goldstone Deep Space Network in the Mojave Desert to get a detail image of the asteroid.

She expects they'll see a lot of detail on rock, which is roughly a third of a mile in diameter.

"We are going to see craters if they are there, maybe boulders... and who knows, it might even have a satellite."

She said about 15% of near earth asteroids have a smaller rock orbiting around them like a satellite.

Studying asteroids can help scientists piece together the early history of our solar system since these space rocks have gone billions of years with little change.

"This is kind of the building blocks of the solar system, this is something that is 4.6 billion years old."

Using radar, JPL is able to not only image asteroid 2004 BL86, but also map it's projected orbit for hundreds of years.

Brozovic says it'll be about two centuries before this particular asteroid visits Earth's neighborhood again.