BOSTON (CBS) – This is one of those stories that grabs everyone’s attention – an asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier is headed toward the Earth.
Not to worry, it is not going to hit, but it is making a remarkably close pass tonight, just 324,600 kilometers away, about 85-percent the distance from Earth to the Moon.
This is the first time that astronomers have been able to track an asteroid this large making such a close to pass to our world.
Ron Dantowitz, astronomer and teacher at the Dexter and Southfield Schools in Brookline, tells me that this particular asteroid known as “Asteroid 2005 YU55” has made several close passes by the Earth in the past but it has gone undetected due to its path coming from the direction of the sun.
Dantowitz talks to WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Joe Mathieu
This makes objects much harder to be seen.
In fact, Dantowitz compared it to being in center field at Fenway Park and trying to see a baseball while looking directly into the sun.
It isn’t every day that an object this large (about 400 meters across) comes this close to the Earth.
In fact, Dantowitz estimates it’s about once every couple of decades.
However, don’t plan on stepping outside and seeing a bright streak in the sky tonight.
This asteroid is known as a “C Type” asteroid, meaning it is a very dark object, almost like black tar, making it nearly invisible to the naked eye.
It will be visible through any large (8-10” or greater) amateur telescope this evening as the sunlight reflects off of it.
It will be drifting through the night sky and will take nearly the entire night to traverse the expanse of our viewing area.
In fact, it would take the asteroid about an hour to travel the distance of your fist if you were to extend it skyward.
You may have heard that 6:28pm is the magical time tonight – that is simply the time when it will be making its closest pass to the Earth.
While it will be a bit easier to see due to its close proximity at that time, you would still need a decent sized telescope.
Dantowitz says that this asteroid is in orbit with the Earth and will continue to make close passes for decades to come, but insists that the chances of it hitting the Earth are 0.00-percent.
Sounds good to me.
I had to ask the question though – if an object this size were to strike the Earth, what would happen?
“It would be a climate changer,” Dantowitz said.
”If it hit the oceans, it would likely produce a 70-foot tsunami and wipe out our coastlines. If it hit a landmass, it would likely destroy our atmosphere.”
Dantowitz says that an object this size would likely not completely wipe out the human race but it would certainly alter life on our planet in a significant way.
Thankfully, Asteroid 2005 YU55 is not destined to strike the Earth, but as it passes by just over 200,000 miles away tonight it should serve as a reminder to all of us just how fragile and perilous our little spot in the universe can be!
You can follow Terry on Twitter at @TerryWBZ.