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Colossal Asteroid To Make Close Encounter With Earth On May 15

May 13, 2018 11:41 PM EDT
The Asteroid 2010 WC9 will be making its approach to Earth on Tuesday, May 15. It's expected to get as close as half the lunar distance.
(Photo : Stan Honda | AFP | Getty Images)

An asteroid longer than a football field is sprinting toward Earth and it's set to approach at an uncomfortably close distance on Tuesday, May 14.

Asteroid 2010 WC9 is expected to whiz safely past the planet, though, so doomsday seekers can put off going underground for the moment. Instead, enthusiasts should point their telescope skywards to get a glimpse of history: one of the closest encounters of an asteroid this size to Earth.

Asteroid Speeds Closer Than Lunar Distance

According to a report from EarthSky, the space rock will reach its closest distance to Earth at half of the moon's distance from the planet or 0.53 lunar-distances away. It's traveling at a speed of 28,655 mph.

This window, which is one of the nearest ever approaches of an asteroid this size, will be at approximately 10:05 p.m. UTC or 6:05 p.m. EDT. Despite being potentially as bright as magnitude +11, it will not be visible to the naked eye, but novice star sleuths and hobbyists will be able to spot it even with small telescopes.

Measuring at 197 to 427 feet, Asteroid 2010 WC9 isn't a particularly large rock when compared to other near-Earth objects in the sea of asteroids in space. However, it can cause plenty of destruction if it hits the Earth's surface.

By comparison, the Chelyabinsk meteor that broke through the Earth's atmosphere in 2013 only measured at 65 feet before entering the atmosphere. It broke windows in six different Russian cities and causing injury to 1,500 people.

Asteroid 2010 WC9 Makes A Comeback

This isn't this particular asteroid's first rodeo within observable distances of Earth.

In November 2010, the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona spotted the 2010 WC9 in the sky and watched it until it disappeared from view over a week later. Now, eight years since it first made an appearance on astronauts' radar, the Apollo type space rock is set to make a triumphant return.

Due to its unusual history, astronomers call the 2010 WC9 the "lost" asteroid.

Those who aren't equipped with even a small telescope can simply watch the cosmic event online. The Northolt Branch Observatories in London will be providing a live stream of the asteroid's approach from their Facebook page.

"Our display will update every five seconds," Guy Wells tells EarthSky in an email. "We are of course collecting astrometric data whilst this is happening, but the motion of the asteroid will be apparent every five seconds!"

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