On Tuesday, our planet will get a brief visit from a solar system traveler. An asteroid the size of the Statue of Liberty will , narrowly missing us.
Not to worry: There’s no chance the asteroid will hit us. And the flyby will provide a nice opportunity to view a cosmic passerby with a telescope.
The asteroid is called 2010 WC9, and was first detected eight years ago by the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona. The sky survey is designed to detect asteroids, comets, and other small solar system bodies, particularly those that could pose a threat to Earth. The CSS has found thousands of these small objects over the last two decades, including 2010 WC9.
But shortly after they discovered 2010 WC9, astronomers lost sight of it again. The asteroid is small by astronomical standards and difficult to detect. During the brief window in which it was visible, astronomers couldn’t get an accurate reading of its orbit. This meant that when it moved away from us, we had no idea where or when it would reappear.
On May 8, astronomers finally found it again, and this time 2010 WC9 traveled close enough for them to finally figure out its orbit. This means we can predict where it’s going to be several more years in the future, and we’ll know well in advance if it poses a threat to us.
During this particular pass, 2010 WC9 will come within 126,419 miles of the Earth, or about half the distance to the Moon. This is one of the closest passes ever made by an asteroid of this size, which means the asteroid itself will be visible to anyone with a small telescope.
If you don’t have access to a small telescope of your own, you’ll be able to watch the asteroid anyway thanks to a . The stream will start at 7 pm Eastern and continue through the time of closest approach.