For people who are even slightly familiar with the solar system, it is common knowledge that Earth is in the middle of a cosmic shooting gallery with millions upon millions of asteroids constantly hurtling through the solar system at almost unimaginable speeds. Just a few days ago, it was announced that, come tomorrow, Earth is going to have a close encounter with an asteroid that, literally, avoided detection until almost the last minute. Fortunately, though, the asteroid will pass Earth, but only with about 12,000 miles (about half the Earth’s circumference) to spare.
Now, as the asteroid will be coming so close to Earth: the big question many astronomers are asking themselves is this: will I be able to see it?
Unfortunately for us in the States, the asteroid will be making its closest approach at 1:14pm EDT on Monday. Obviously, not only will Americans be denied the chance to see the asteroid at closest approach (while it’s at its brightest), so will the rest of the Western Hemisphere. However, even though we may not be able to see it at peak brightness, there is still a chance that one can see 2011MD in a telescope as it will be around magnitude 12.5, which is within the reach of a 4 inch scope under dark skies. Live in a light polluted suburban area? Then you’ll want a bigger scope.
Now, where will 2011MD be located come Monday?
On Monday night, the asteroid will be visible near the constellation of Corvus, which will be low in the Southwest come nightfall. However, with a body this close to Earth (remember, the asteroid is only half the Earth’s circumference away), locations may appear different depending on where you are and what time you are looking. To better your chances of success spotting the tiny space body, go here and generate an ephemeris for your specific location (your latitude and longitude). From there, use setting circles on your telescope mount and/or a computer program to help you zero in on the asteroid.
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