An enormous asteroid – approximately the size of an aircraft carrier – is due to zip past Earth on Sunday. Dubbed “The Beast,” the huge space rock is estimated to fly past our planet, no closer than around 3.2 lunar distances.
The asteroid 2014 HQ124 was discovered by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer on April 23. The sky-mapping telescope was deployed to perceive the glow of hundreds of millions of never before seen objects, from near-Earth asteroids to luminous galaxies. It was hoped the telescope could generate a catalogue of images that could help astronomers understand some of the fundamental mysteries surrounding the origins of planets and stars.
Researchers connected with NASA’s Asteroid Watch program at JPL in Pasadena, California, claim Asteroid 2014 HQ124 is over 1,000 feet in width. On Sunday, the asteroid will be travelling at speeds of up to 31,000 miles per hour when it is closest to the Earth. Although astronomers predict the asteroid will miss the Earth, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has classified The Beast as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA).
The Slooh Space Camera started broadcasting the spectacle at 2:30 p.m. EDT on Thursday, June 5. Slooh’s astronomers streamed the event from Australia, using time-lapse video footage from their robotic observatory in Chile. The webcast included commentary from host Geoff Fox, Slooh community observatory astronomer Bob Berman and a specialist in asteroid impacts, Mark Boslough.
Although sky surveys are said to have identified around 90 percent of all potentially dangerous asteroids that have widths of 3,200 feet and over, a number of smaller rocks are yet to be found and tracked; for example, only 30 percent of all 460-foot rocks have been detected. Although these asteroids represent a much lower risk, they can still wreak havoc on a city-wide scale.
NASA has recently teamed up with Slooh in a bid to get more people involved in hunting down near-Earth asteroids. It’s hoped that enlisting the aid of citizen scientists could help the space agency more readily identify smaller asteroids that often go unnoticed.