Asteroid Flyby will Skim Our Satellites
A smallish asteroid (20 meters) will be passing very close to the earth this weekend. We and our satellites are not in danger but 25,000 miles away is uncomfortably close.
The name of this newly discovered asteroid is the unimaginative 2014 RC and was discovered by Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey and independently a day later by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii (sorry Hawaii, second doesn’t count).
25,000 miles away may seem like a lot but consider that that’s one tenth the distance to the moon and just slightly farther away than our geosynchronous satellites which are in 22,000 mile high orbits. If that asteroid takes out the Netflix satellite I will be supremely pissed.
At its closest approach RC will be directly above New Zealand at about 2:18 p.m. EDT. Even at this distance it will unfortunately not be naked eye visible because its apparent magnitude will be 11.5. This scale characterizes how visible something is from earth assuming there is no atmosphere. This is because the atmosphere will change the brightness of objects depending how thick of a slice of it you are currently looking through. This scale was adapted from the ancient Hellenistic practice of categorizing stars into six magnitudes where the brightest were number 1 and the dimmest were number 6 (naked-eye of course). Above 6 then is invisible to unaided peepers. We’ve extended this magnitude scale to all celestial objects meaning that really bright objects dip into the negatives like the Sun (-25) and really dim objects can go as high as 30.
If you have a nice amateur telescope and some experience though, you should be able to see this speedy object this weekend. If you do, please reassure me that Netflix is ok.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech