A large space rock known as asteroid 2012 DA14 will be zipping by our planet on Feb. 15, coming within 28,000 km of Earth, the closest approach ever seen for an object its size. You can catch the event live using a backyard telescope or binoculars or watch it here on Wired with a collection of live feeds from around the world.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 has a diameter roughly equal to an Olympic-size swimming pool, 50 meters, and an estimated mass similar to the object that caused the 1908 Tunguska Event that destroyed a large swath of remote land in Russia. Thankfully, there is no chance that the asteroid will impact the Earth. It will come within 27,700 km at its closest approach, less than a tenth of the distance between the Earth and moon.
DA14 will also pass within the paths of geosynchronous satellites, which orbit at about 35,800 km, and provide data for GPS, communication, and weather predictions, though there is also no chance that the asteroid will damage any of these spacecraft. Deep Space Industries, a private company that aims to mine asteroids for profit, estimates that the object could be worth $195 billion but some economists suggest that this is an overly optimistic assessment for the time being.
The record-setting event has been eagerly anticipated by amateur astronomers and the public at large and there are many ways to watch the celestial show tomorrow from all over the world. The asteroid will be too dim to see with the naked eye but those with experience watching asteroid flybys can use a telescope or pair of binoculars to track the object. Even for veteran watchers, this will be tricky since the asteroid is coming in so close that it will gallop across the sky at a rapid pace while constantly having its orbit altered by the Earth’s gravitational field. You can follow instructions from Sky & Telescope magazine to best set up a live backyard viewing.
The asteroid will be at its peak brightness at 11:24 a.m. PST/ 2:24 p.m. EST, meaning that it will still be daytime for viewers in the Americas. The best sky-watching locations will be in Australia and Asia, where 2012 DA14 will be visible shortly before dawn on Feb. 16, or from Europe and Africa, where the object will be seen in the late evening on the 15th. The map below from astronomer Geert Barentsen in the U.K. shows the best places and times to see the flyby during its peak visibility.