Large asteroid to safely pass Earth on Monday

The large asteroid 2013 NK4 (shown in white) has an elliptical orbit that takes it past the orbit of Mars (red) and in between the orbits of Venus (pink) and Mercury (purple). It orbits the sun every 378 days. It’ll safely pass Earth (blue) on Monday, April 15, 2024. Image via NASA.

Large asteroid will safely pass Earth

A large space rock will safely pass Earth today (April 15, 2024). And it’s big enough to see using a small telescope! The asteroid is labeled 2013 NK4. It has a diameter of about 2,000 feet (610 meters). That makes it about twice as large as Apophis, the so-called doomsday asteroid that will pass closer than Earth’s artificial satellites in 2029. Meanwhile, today, 2013 NK4 will pass at a much farther distance. It’s sweeping past at more than 8 times the moon’s distance. What’s so amazing about it? People with telescopes will be able to watch it fly by Earth!

Closest approach for asteroid 2013 NK4 happens on Monday, April 15, 2024, at 14:51 UTC. But, due to its location in the sky, it’ll be easier to see through a telescope on the nights of April 16 and 17. See finder charts below.

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The asteroid’s orbit

Because the asteroid occasionally passes near Earth and is a fairly large space rock, 2013 NK4 holds the scary-sounding designation of Potentially Hazardous Asteroid. However, we’ve known about asteroid 2013 NK4 since 2013 (thus the year designation in its name), and it has a well-defined orbit. There will be absolutely no danger as it passes by Earth on April 15.

2013 NK4 orbits the sun every 378 days. But its orbit is slightly more elliptical than ours. Its orbit goes out past Mars and then dives in between the orbits of Venus and Mercury. The asteroid will pass our planet at a speed of 36,909 miles per hour (59,400 km per hour) or 10.2 miles per second (16.5 km per second), relative to Earth.

Use a telescope to see the large asteroid

Using “GoTo” or computerized telescopes makes observing an asteroid easier than ever before. You’ll be able to see the asteroid in the telescope eyepiece or screen as a slowly moving point of light in front of the background stars.

Star chart showing location of 2013 NK4 on April 16, 2024.
Here’s a wide view of the sky on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, at 10:45 p.m CDT. Visit Stellarium for a precise view of these constellations on April 16 from your location on Earth. Illustration via Eddie Irizarry/ Stellarium.
Star chart showing location of 2013 NK4 on April 16, 2024.
A closer view. Observers using a computerized or Go-To telescope can point their instrument at one of these reference stars around 10:45 p.m. CDT on April 16 to try to spot asteroid 2013 NK4. The asteroid should appear as a “slow-moving star” passing in front of the fixed stars in the sky. Illustration via Eddie Irizarry/ Stellarium.
Star chart showing location of 2013 NK4 on April 17, 2024.
Here’s a wide view of the sky on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, at 10 p.m. CDT. Visit Stellarium for a precise view of these constellations on April 17 from your location on Earth. Illustration via Eddie Irizarry/ Stellarium.
Star chart showing location of 2013 NK4 on April 17, 2024.
A closer view. Observers using a computerized or Go-To telescope can point their instrument at one of these reference stars around 10 p.m. CDT on April 17 to try to spot asteroid 2013 NK4. The asteroid should appear as a “slow-moving star” passing in front of the fixed stars in the sky. Illustration via Eddie Irizarry/ Stellarium.

NASA will be studying NK4

According to NASA/JPL, astronomers will be studying the space rock using the 230-foot (70-meter) DSS-14 Goldstone radar antenna in California from April 13-19. Also, on April 14, observations of this object are scheduled from Canberra, Australia, using NASA’s 34-meter (112-foot) DSS-35 dish antenna.

Scientists expect to acquire highly detailed delay-Doppler images, which should show the asteroid’s shape and perhaps allow them to better refine the space rock’s size.

Bottom line: A large asteroid – 2013 NK4, which spans about 2,000 feet across – will safely pass by Earth on April 15, 2024. It’ll be visible in small telescopes on April 16 and 17.

Reference

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