BL86, coming to a sky near you


An asteroid the size five football fields is approaching Earth and is expected to pass by [today]. It will be visible through strong binoculars – definitely worth doing; the next time such an asteroid could be this close again will be in 2027.

The weather has been particularly good for star gazing of late.  

At the closest point to the Earth, asteroid 2004 BL86 will be at a distance of 1.2 million kilometers which – approximately three times the distance from the Earth to the moon. Estimated to be 0.5 km in diameter, it is classified by scientists as potentially dangerous.

A space object is considered “potentially dangerous” if it crosses the Earth’s orbit at a distance of less than 0.05 AU (approximately 19.5 distances from the Earth to the Moon), and if its diameter exceeds 100-150 meters. Objects of this size are large enough to cause unprecedented destruction, or generate a tsunami in case they fall into the ocean.

“While it poses no threat to Earth for the foreseeable future, it’s a relatively close approach by a relatively large asteroid, so it provides us a unique opportunity to observe and learn more,” Don Yeomans from NASA’s Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.

It is very rare that such a huge space body comes this close to Earth. The next time an asteroid might be passing by will be in 2027, when 1999 AN10 flies past Earth. As for 2004 BL86 itself, it can be monitored from Earth for another 200 years.

Astronomers strongly recommend trying to catch this unique opportunity to spot an asteroid in the sky. It will be possible on January 26 between 11:07 pm and 11:52 pm ET.

Unfortunately, this is between 17:07 and 18:52 our time (I hope I got that right), so we are unlikely to get a very good look.

Numerous observatories all over the world will use this opportunity to learn something new about 2004 BL86. NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico will try to procure scientific data and radar-generated images of the asteroid while it is in its closest position to the Earth.

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

I tried to find out more information as to where to look, and if you stand a chance to see it even during the day, but guess what?


One of the more unique and exciting things to happen in our skies, and they lock the door and go away.  At least they could have had an info page as to our chances, and if there is one, how to go about it.   Seems that our astronomers stop looking at the sky when it’s holiday time.

We’ll have to wait for the photos from elsewhere in the world to pop up on the Internet.


– RT


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  • Cadwallader

    When I first saw your star-map I thought you may have been depicting the re-entry into our solar-system of Greenies co-leader Dr Norman. He has certainly been out of sight on a very peculiar orbit for many weeks. I don’t think any of us are desperate for his re-appearance.

    • ex-JAFA

      And he’s certainly more dangerous to NZ than an asteroid passing at that distance.

    • Betty Swallocks

      If you’d read the post properly you would have realised it was referring to an asteroid rather than a haemorrhoid.

  • rangitoto

    According to JPL:

    The asteroid
    moves from the south to the north, from below the Earth’s orbit to above.
    The indicated times are Universal Time. Closest approach occurs at about
    16:19 UTC, or about 11:19 EST. The roughly 500-meter (1500-foot) asteroid
    approaches to within 1.2 million kilometers (750,000 miles) of Earth, or
    about 3.1 times the distance of the Moon.

    16:19 UTC (ie GMT) – That would be tomorrow morning at 04:19

    • rangitoto

      PS. I downloaded the orbital elements into Stellarium. This screenshot shows where it is located tomorrow morning at 04:19 (the four orange lines). The sky should be dark enough.

      • rangitoto

        Chart for 05:19

        • Yay. Thank goodness we have someone who knows stuff to help out :)