Near-miss asteroid tracked over St Albans

PUBLISHED: 09:41 15 February 2013 | UPDATED: 09:41 15 February 2013

Asteroid passing in between Earth and communication satellites

Asteroid passing in between Earth and communication satellites

University of Hertfordshire

AN asteroid the size of a small office block due to pass by Earth tonight (Friday) in one of the closest “near-misses” in recent history should be able to be seen by star-gazers in St Albans with a pair of strong binoculars.

The huge rock is being closely monitored around the world, including by researchers at University of Hertfordshire, as it travels at over 28,000 miles per hour tonight.

Weighing 130,000 tonnes the asteroid, officially named 2012DA14, will pass between Earth and communication satellites at about 9.30pm.

Sue Nelson, space enthusiast and co-founder of the Wheathampstead-based Space Boffins podcast, suggested that locals keen to spot the asteroid try to pick somewhere relatively free of light pollution, such as a common or field.

The broadcaster said: “It is better if the area is clear of buildings, trees and street lamps, because light pollution is an amateur astronomer’s nightmare.”

She suggested that those needing help to find the location of the constellation that the asteroid is likely to appear in the UK’s skies tonight download smartphone applications, such as the Star Walk education app, that allows users to locate and identify 20,000 objects in the night sky.

Sue added: “They are going to be streaming it live from NASA too.”

University of Hertfordshire astronomer Dr Mark Gallaway said he will be using a high-powered telescope to track 2012DA14’s movements.

He said: “From 7pm it won’t be quite visible from the UK because it will be below the horizon. But if you have a pair of strong binoculars or a small telescope and use our find-a-chart [see diagram to the right], the asteroid will be going through The Plough at about 9.30pm.”

Dr Gallaway said: “We think the asteroid is reddish-grey in colour, and it’s very rocky. This has come from the asteroid belt, from between the orbit of Jupiter and Mars.

“We think there are a million of these things.”

He said people need not fear a collision as the asteroid is passing between 20,000 to 30,000 miles from Earth.

Dr Gallaway added: “But that is very, very close. If it did happen to hit Earth, it would explode in our atmosphere, over water, and is not anywhere near big enough to cause any major damage.”

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