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February 12, 2013

Asteroid flyby on Friday: Where and when to watch it online

Posted in: Science,Video

A handout illustration showing a diagram depicting the passage of asteroid 2012 DA14 through the Earth-moon system on Friday. (NASA/JPL-CALTECH)

Graphic depicts the trajectory of asteroid 2012 DA14 on Friday. In this view, we are looking down from above Earth's north pole. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Graphic depicts the trajectory of asteroid 2012 DA14 during its close approach, as seen edge-on to Earth's equatorial plane. The graphic demonstrates why the asteroid is invisible to northern hemisphere observers until just before close approach: it is approaching from "underneath" our planet. On the other hand, after close approach it will be favorably placed for observers in the northern hemisphere. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An asteroid half  the size of a football field will come zipping past Earth at an almost uncomfortably close distance on Friday, and you can watch it online.

If you were hoping to just crane your neck skyward and watch the space rock fly by overhead, think again: Though NASA scientists say this is the first time in recorded history that an asteroid this large will fly this close to Earth,  it will still appear too small to see with the naked eye.

People in the Eastern Hemisphere may be able to spot the asteroid zoom by with the help of strong binoculars or a small telescope, but here in the Western Hemisphere, it will be nearly impossible to see it even with these visual aids because its closest approach will take place during daylight hours.

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You don’t have to miss the sky-watching fun, though. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet and live streaming video, there are several places where you can track the asteroid online.

NASA will provide a Ustream feed of the flyby from a telescope at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. The broadcast starts at 3 p.m. and goes until 6 p.m. PST on February 15. NASA researchers will also be on hand to answer questions that are tweeted in from the public.

Slooh.com will also be streaming live images from two observatories of the flyby accompanied by a real-time analysis and discussion from Slooh’s team of astronomers. The site will also create a moving image of the asteroid hurtling against the background of the stars. Slooh’s live stream also goes from 3  to 6 p.m. PST.

You can also check out streaming images from the Clay Center Observatory in Brookline, Mass., which will be pointing its space camera at the asteroid from 3 p.m to 1 a.m. PST. The images from this camera will be brought to you by a team of high-school students. You can access the video feed from the observatory’s Ustream channel.

At its closest approach, the asteroid known as 2012 DA14 will be just 17,200 miles from Earth, or about 1/10th the distance between the Earth and the moon.

At that distance the asteroid will be closer to us than some communication satellites, but NASA astronomers have said again and again that there is no chance that the asteroid will hit us.

So don’t worry, and enjoy the show!

– Deborah Netburn

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