Watch live as a massive asteroid zooms close by Earth

World Today

This graphic depicts the passage of asteroid 2004 BL86, which will come no closer than about three times the distance from Earth to the moon on Jan. 26, 2015. Due to its orbit around the sun, the asteroid is currently only visible by astronomers with large telescopes who are located in the southern hemisphere. But by Jan. 26, the space rock’s changing position will make it visible to those in the northern hemisphere. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

About the size of five football fields, Asteroid 2004 BL86 will woosh by Earth Monday at an extraordinarily close — but safe — distance of 745,000 miles. That’s about three trips from our blue marble to the moon.

Although its path won’t bring it anywhere near a collision course with Earth, it’s special in that it’s the closest any known space rock this big will fly past Earth until asteroid 1999 AN10 in 2027, according to NASA, and it’s the closest this asteroid will be for at least the next 200 years.

Asteroid 2004 BL86 (NASA)

Animation of Asteroid 2004 BL86's orbit by the Earth. NASA/JPL


Animation by NASA / JPL


Amateur astronomers with small telescopes or strong binoculars and a clear sky are expected to be able to see the asteroid pass by, which was discovered in 2004.

“When we get our radar data back the day after the flyby, we will have the first detailed images,” said radar astronomer Lance Benner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “At present, we know almost nothing about the asteroid, so there are bound to be surprises.”

Slooh.com is making the livecast available. From the organization’s website: “Slooh will broadcast the event live from telescopes situated in Australia. The image stream will be accompanied by discussions led by Slooh host Will Gater, Slooh astronomer Bob Berman, and special guests including Dr. Paul Chodas, manager of JPL’S Near-Earth Object Program Office, and Dr. Lance Benner, NASA Research Scientist. Viewers can follow updates on the show and ask questions to be answered live on air by using the Twitter hashtag #SloohBL86.