OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- With an asteroid a third of a mile wide set to soar past Earth Jan. 26, scientists and amateur astronomers alike will be looking up.
The asteroid, designated as 2004 BL86, will be one of the largest to pass this close to the Earth in many years.
However, it won't be unusually close: it will be 745,000 miles away at closest approach. That's 3.1 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.
Gerald McKeegan, an astronomer at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, said the actual time of closest approach will be at 10:20 a.m. PST on the 26th. By then, the asteroid will already be farther away.
Still, the asteroid will be high enough to observe starting around 9:00 p.m. Monday evening in California. At that time, it will be in the constellation Cancer, very near the Beehive Cluster (M44). It will be at visual magnitude 9.1 for a couple hours, but will then slowly fade. Here's a look at the path of the Asteroid with some helpful markers, listed times are Eastern Standard:
McKeegan said that's bright enough to see it in a small telescope, but it would be a real challenge for binoculars. Larger binoculars (50 mm or bigger) might be able to pick it out if the observer is in a dark location well away from city lights.
However, KPIX 5's Roberta Gonzales says clouds moving in from the south could make sky watching difficult during much of the flyby.
Also making it a challenge in binoculars will be the fact that it won't appear to move very fast. McKeegan said a careful observer may notice that its position relative to surrounding stars changes if you look with binoculars every five minutes or so. But it will take a very steady hand, or a mount, to hold binoculars still long enough to actually see movement. Movement will be much more apparent if observing through a telescope.
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