Huge 460ft-wide ‘Christmas Asteroid’ will skim past Earth this week – how YOU can see it

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A space rock up to 140 meters wide, dubbed the “Christmas Asteroid,” will hurtle past Earth this holiday season.

The object, which poses no threat to our planet, will come within 420,000 miles (680,000 km) when it makes its closest approach Thursday.

Stargazers in the southern hemisphere will get the best view of the asteroid, but those in Europe will also be able to see it between now and December 19.

To mark the approach, the European Space Agency is calling on amateur astronomers to find and photograph the space rock 2015 RN35.

To look up! A space rock up to 140 meters wide and dubbed the ‘Christmas Asteroid’ will hurtle past Earth this holiday season (stock image)

Key details: The object, which poses no threat to our planet, will come within 420,000 miles (686 km) when it makes its closest approach Thursday

Key details: The object, which poses no threat to our planet, will come within 420,000 miles (686 km) when it makes its closest approach Thursday

KEY FACTS ABOUT THE CHRISTMAS ASTEROID

Name: 2015 RN35 (Christmas asteroid)

Mate: 196ft – 460ft (60-140 meters)

Discovery date: September 9, 2015

Closest Approach to Earth: 420,000 miles (679,800 km)

Time of closest approach: 08:10 GMT (03:10 ET) on December 15, 2022

We don’t call this a challenge for nothing. 2015 RN35 will not shine brightly in the sky like the star of Bethlehem did millennia ago,” the agency said in a blog post on its website.

‘No. This asteroid is smaller than the Statue of Liberty and is quite small on an astronomical scale. And when flybys go, at just under twice the distance to the moon, it probably won’t make headlines.”

Nevertheless, ESA said telescopes 11 inches (30 cm) and larger should be able to detect the Christmas asteroid.

“We look forward to your sightings!” the agency added.

“Use the hashtag #ESAChristmasAsteroid on social media to share your results, which we’ll share on our @esaoperations channel.”

The asteroid is of particular interest to scientists because it is not well known.

Experts don’t know what it’s made of, how big it is, or whether it rotates on its axis.

They don’t even know its orbit particularly well either, though they’ve confirmed it won’t hit Earth for at least the next century.

This uncertainty makes it seem like there are hundreds of thousands of similar sized asteroids.

While almost all of the massive planet killers have been found by scientists, most medium-sized asteroids like this Christmas have yet to be discovered.

Experts believe there are several hundred thousand that could cause massive damage to a local area if they hit Earth.

The asteroid is of particular interest to scientists because it is not well known.  While almost all of the massive planet killers have been found by scientists, most medium-sized asteroids like this Christmas have yet to be discovered.

The asteroid is of particular interest to scientists because it is not well known. While almost all of the massive planet killers have been found by scientists, most medium-sized asteroids like this Christmas have yet to be discovered

Stargazers in the southern hemisphere will get the best view of the asteroid, but those in Europe will also be able to see it between now and December 19.

Stargazers in the southern hemisphere will get the best view of the asteroid, but those in Europe will also be able to see it between now and December 19.

To help amateur and professional astronomers find the Christmas asteroid, ESA has a ‘toolkit’ that is freely available to everyone.

It allows people to visualize the orbit of the space rock and its December 15 flyby, including when it will be visible from various locations on Earth.

Observers using the new Near-Earth Object (NEO) Toolkit can also learn more about the Apollo group of asteroids it belongs to as they plan how and where to spot it, depending on exactly where they are in the world.

ESA’s asteroid toolkit was created by the agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center (NEOCC) in Rome.

“We use these tools every day to plan our observations, to visualize asteroids up close and to help us understand and explain the varied asteroid populations in the solar system and the risk we face,” said Juan-Luis Cano, information systems manager at the NEOCC.

“We want them to be as useful to the rest of the world as they are to us, because planetary defense is a global effort.”

Experts don't know the Christmas asteroid's orbit particularly well, but they've confirmed it won't hit Earth in the next century anyway

Experts don’t know the orbit of the Christmas asteroid particularly well, but they’ve confirmed it won’t hit Earth in the next century anyway

Richard Moissl, ESA’s head of planetary defence, said: ‘This is the kind of work that ESA’s NEOCC does every day, often with even fainter asteroids using even larger telescopes, such as the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and others in the NEOCC’s network of rapid access telescopes spread around the world.

‘With these observations we determine the movement of asteroids and project their path into the future, to know if – when – an asteroid could strike.

“As the recent DART impact has shown, and as ESA’s Hera mission will expand, an asteroid impact with sufficient warning is the only natural disaster we can prevent.”

The Asteroid Hunting Toolkit includes the Observation Planning Tool, the Aerial Mapping Tool, the Orbit Viewing Tool, and the Flyby Visualization Tool.

Click here for more information on how to use it.

If you enjoyed this article…

Stargazing fans can also enjoy the Geminid Meteor Shower when it peaks tomorrow night (Wednesday)

And a new interactive map has brought the 1998 movie Deep Impact to life, allowing users anywhere in the world to drop a space rock to watch the devastation unfold

Also, a study suggests that dinosaurs were actually in their prime and not in decline when a giant asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago

Explained: the difference between an asteroid, meteorite and other space rocks

A asteroid is a large chunk of rock left over from collisions or the early solar system. Most are located between Mars and Jupiter in the Main Belt.

A comet is a rock covered with ice, methane and other compounds. Their orbits take them much further out of the solar system.

A meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns.

This debris itself is known as a meteoroid. Most are so small that they evaporate into the atmosphere.

If one of these meteoroids hits Earth, it will become one meteorite.

Meteors, meteoroids, and meteorites normally originate from asteroids and comets.

For example, if Earth passes through the tail of a comet, much of the debris in the atmosphere burns up and forms a meteor shower.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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