The European Space Agency has issued a new challenge to amateur astronomers across the world. Find an asteroid, smaller than the statue of liberty, which is approaching Earth fast. The space rock will make a close approach to Earth on December 15, passing by at a distance of just 6,86,000 km from Earth.
Asteroids are rocky fragments left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago. An asteroid is classified as a near-Earth object when its distance from our planet is less than 1.3 times the distance from Earth to the Sun (the Earth-Sun distance is about 93 million miles), according to the Nasa Joint Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
The distance is under two lunar distances and observers in the southern hemisphere will get the best view during close approach. Dubbed 2015 RN35 will have a visual magnitude below 14, the same as that of Pluto in the night sky, making it difficult to find. However, ESA has said that telescopes 30 cm and larger should be able to detect the Christmas asteroid.
The Near-Earth Object (NEO) could be observed from 15-17 December with Europe getting a chance over the following days until about 19 December.
“2015 RN35 will not shine bright in the skies. There’s not a single asteroid out there that isn’t interesting. Near-Earth asteroids fascinate ESA’s Planetary Defence Office in particular because they give us key insights into the composition and trajectory of potentially hazardous objects,” ESA said in a statement.
WHY IS THIS ASTEROID INTERESTING?
The asteroid is interesting for astronomers since there isn’t much information available about it and no one knows what it’s made of. ESA said that no one knows what it’s made of or precisely how big it is or if it’s spinning on its axis or even knows its orbit particularly well.
“This uncertainty makes it like hundreds of thousands of similarly sized asteroids out there. While we’ve found nearly all of the huge planet-killers, most of these middle-sized asteroids – of which there are several hundred thousand, and which could do great damage to a local area if they were to impact – are yet to be discovered,” ESA added.
The asteroid does not pose any threat to Earth.
Astronomers had recently discovered an asteroid moments before it hit Earth. Astronomer David Rankin discovered 2022 WJ1 just hours before it hit Earth and was captured in footage and cameras in Canada. Less than 3 feet in diameter, the asteroid was detected just hours before it managed to streak through a fiery entry into Earth’s atmosphere.