The last few months have been quite exciting for Space scientists. First there were the two free falling satellites and now there is a giant asteroid that is making its way towards earth.
The good news is that there is no danger that the 1,300 feet-wide space rock called 2005 YU55, will hit Earth. However, the asteroid, which is traveling at about 29,000mph is expected to get pretty close - To within 201,000 miles away from us at 6.28pm EST today. To put it in perspective, that is closer than the moon, which orbits at a distance of about 238,000 miles.
The last time a space rock came this close to earth was in 1976, when a smaller asteroid called XC15 performed a similar flyby. Unfortunately, all the experts including US Space Agency NASA, missed it. This, combined with the fact that the next close encounter is not expected to happen until 2028, makes today's flyby quite special.
NASA has been tracking the asteroid with the powerful antennas at the Deep Space Network in Goldstone, California and the Arecibo Planetary Radar Facility in Puerto Rico. As it gets closer, they will bounce radio waves off the space rock, to try obtain images that are clear enough to get some insights about the asteroid's surface features, shape, dimensions etc.
Unfortunately, budding astronauts hoping to get a glimpse of this giant rock will be out of luck. While the space rock will definitely not be visible without a telescope, even those with one may have a hard time, thanks to the fact that 2005 YU55 is pretty dim and tough to spot - And, the almost full moon makes it even worse. Also, given that it will move rather quickly, covering about 70 degrees in just 10 hours, they will have to know exactly where to look.
First spotted by an Arizona-based astronomer about six years ago, 2005 YU55 is a pitch-black asteroid that spins slowly in space. The last time it came this close, was about 200 years ago - Let's hope it keeps up the same pace and distance in the future.
Resources: cbsnews.com, washingtonpost.com, dailymail.co.uk