WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Asteroid to pass by Earth Sunday afternoon

Posted September 6, 2014 8:20 a.m. EDT

Asteroid 2014 RC (Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech)

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Program catalogs asteroids and comets that come within 1.3 astronomical units (the average distance between the Earth and sun). Close approaches of NEOs happen every day. Just this week, 18 asteroids and comets on that list passed within 1.3 AU, the closest coming within 586,000 miles.

Asteroid 2014 RC will pass by Earth early Sunday afternoon. The asteroid was discovered Aug. 31 by Catalina Sky Survey telescopes near Tucson, Arizona and estimated to be about 60 feet wide and traveling at about 25,000 miles per hour.

Using additional observations from telescopes in Hawaii, the asteroid’s path brings it within 24,800 miles of Earth at 2:01 p.m. EDT, about 1/10th the distance from the Earth to the moon but still out of range of geosynchronous, weather and communications satellites.

2014 RC is classified as an Apollo class asteroid because it cross’s Earth’s orbital path but spends most of its life outside far beyond that. About 62 percent of near-Earth asteroids are Apollos. There is also an Aten class (Earth-crosser, spends most of its time inside Earth’s orbit), Armor class (comes close but does not cross Earth orbit), and Interior to Earth Orbit (orbits the sun closer than Earth. Each class is named for the first asteroid discovered of that type.

Astronomers discover asteroids which cross Earth’s path about once a month. JPL’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Program catalogs comets and asteroids which pass within an astronomical unit (AU), or the average distance between the Earth and Sun. Particular interest is paid to Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA) JPL is currently tracking 1497 PHAs

Asteroid 2014 will pass during daylight hours here and will not be visible. Observers in the Southern Hemisphere with a moderate sized telescope and dark skies might spot it but with an estimated apparent magnitude of +11.5, it will be too dim for the naked eye or binoculars.

This weekend you can see Mars, Saturn and the red super giant star Antares will line up in the southern sky after dark. Orangey Mars will continue to move closer to Orangey Antares through out September, look this weekend and then check again next week to see the movement.

Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.