A half-kilometer-long asteroid will fly past earth on Monday (January 26), approaching as close as 1.2 million km from the planet, about three times the distance from earth to the moon.
The asteroid, designated 2004 BL86, was discovered on January 30, 2004 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project in New Mexico.
Monday’s fly-by will be the closest such a large asteroid has been to earth until asteroid 1999 AN10 passes earth in 2027. Asteroid 1999 AN10 is expected to pass the earth from an even closer distance of one lunar distance.
NASA scientists say that asteroid 2004 BL86 poses no threat to Earth, but hope NASA will be able to learn more about asteroids from this event because of asteroid 2004 BL86’s relatively large size and close proximity during the flyby.
The asteroid will be so bright and so close to earth on Monday night that even amateur astronomers with small telescopes or strong binoculars will be able to spot it.
NASA scientists will observe asteroid 2004 BL86 by directing microwave beams at the asteroid and collecting the radar pulses that bounce back off the target. Using the collected data, NASA scientists will be able to determine the make-up of the asteroid and how the asteroid was formed, as well as what the asteroid looks like.
It is likely that this will be the closest asteroid 2004 BL86 will get to earth for at least the next 200 years. If asteroid 2004 BL86 were to hit earth, it would create a crater of approximately 10 km in diameter, causing global firestorms, acid rain and an enhanced greenhouse effect.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA) News, The Guardian