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The asteroid 357439 (2004 BL86) approaches Earth - Virtual observations available for the general public

on 16 January 2015

Update 27.01.2015: Scientists working with NASA's Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, have released the first radar images of asteroid 2004 BL86. The images show that the asteroid is approximately 325 meters across and it has a small moon approximately 70 meters across. Details here.

On 26 January the giant asteroid 357439 (2004 BL86) with a size estimated between 0.4 - 1 km, will reach the minimum distance from our planet: 1.1 million km, which is three times the distance from the Earth to the Moon. This will be the closest approach to Earth of 2004 BL86 in the next 200 years, and its relatively large size offers scientists a rare opportunity to study these cosmic objects better.

The Earth is safe at this distance. The event remains a rare one, because 2004 BL86 is one of the brightest asteroids ariving so close to us to date. The magnitude of the body will be 9.5, so it can be seen even through small binoculars or telescopes, but not with the naked eye. The asteroid will cross the constellations Hydra, Cancer and Leo, reaching maximum brightness while in the Cancer constellation.

According to NASA, it will be the closest approach to Earth of an object of this size until 2027, when 1999 AN10, an asteroid discovered by LINEAR on 13 January 1999, will come nearer us.

When 2004 BL86 will reach the closest distance from our planet, it will have a speed of 2.7 degrees per hour (about 5.4 times the width of the Moon), and its movement will be easily noticed. The asteroid will reach opposition at 07:00 Romania local time, on 27 January.

The asteroid 357439 (2004 BL86) was discovered on 30 January 2004 by LINEAR (The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research), a collaboration between the United States Air Force, NASA, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory for the systematic discovery and tracking of near-Earth asteroids.

On 26 January 2015, starting 21:30 Romania local time, you can watch live virtual observations of the close encounter between Earth and asteroid 2004 BL86. The session will be accompanied by live comments made by Gianluca Masi, specialist in astronomy, and will be broadcast here.

During the live observation session, on 26 January, 2004 BL86l will reach full brightness.


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech