Gear up astronomy fans. A 2,000-foot asteroid called 2014 JO25 is going to pass safely by Earth on April 19th at a distance of just 1.1 million miles. Close, but nothing for us to worry about. It’ll be more than four times the distance from Earth to the moon. NASA does describe it as a “very close approach for an asteroid of this size,” though.

Originally published 4/10/2017.

We don’t know much about 2014 JO25 besides its trajectory. Hell, we just discovered it. In May 2014, astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona spotted the chunk of rock. NASA’s NEOWISE mission pegs the asteroid’s size at around 2,000 feet. Its surface is also twice as reflective as the moon.

While we won’t be tossing missiles at this asteroid next week, NASA astronomers will be scrambling to learn more about the asteroid. Plans for radar observations using NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico are set. Radar images from these two massive telescopes will resolve surface details down to a few meters.

UPDATE 4/19/2017.

The first radar images of asteroid 2014 JO25 are here.

Yesterday, NASA’s 230-foot-wide Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California used radar to image the asteroid. The two lobe structure kind of looks like Comet 67P doesn’t it?

The resolution of the grainy pictures is about 25 feet per pixel. Enjoy this view of asteroid 2014 JO25. We won’t be around to see it this good again. The next time this asteroid flies this close to Earth won’t be for another 400 years.

Original article continues.

Asteroids of this size don’t make trips this close to Earth all that often. 2014 JO25 is the biggest since asteroid Toutatis flew within four lunar distances in 2004. That asteroid measures 3.1 miles across.

JO25 and Toutatis make for good headlines, but we won’t see either one get this close again for a long time. It’ll be another 500 years before JO25 gets this close again.

The next time an asteroid this big passes this close to Earth will be in 2027 when the half-mile-wide 1999 AN10 soars by at one lunar distance (236,000 miles). At least, that we know about. It’s a big sky, and more near-Earth asteroids are bound to be discovered.

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That also highlights the risks. What asteroids are lurking out there that we haven’t discovered? Asteroids don’t need to be big to cause a lot of problems.

Last fall, NASA and FEMA conducted an exercise about a fictitious asteroid impact four years from now (note: this isn’t happening, it was just an exercise). Four years might seem like plenty of time to mount a deflection mission, but this exercise was specifically designed to not have enough time execute such a mission. Instead, emergency managers were faced with a mass evacuation of the Los Angeles area.

“The high degree of initial uncertainty coupled with the relatively long impact warning time made this scenario unique and especially challenging for emergency managers,” said FEMA National Response Coordination Branch Chief Leviticus A. Lewis. “It’s quite different from preparing for an event with a much shorter timeline, such as a hurricane.”

Exercises like this give all agencies involved a framework for how to respond to a potential asteroid collision. Plus, the folks at NASA learn what the most important information is for emergency managers.

“It’s not a matter of it — but when — we will deal with such a situation,” said NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen at the time.

Thankfully, 2014 JO25 won’t be a problem for anyone.

How to see 2014 JO25

During its closest approach, the asteroid will brighten to magnitude 11. Too dark for naked-eye observations even in the darkest skies. You’re going to need a telescope. EarthSky’s Eddie Irizarry put together a great post with viewing tips.

From the article:

Observers using a computerized “Go To” telescope can point the instrument at star HIP 87728 a few minutes before 3:40 a.m. Central Time on April 19, and watch the asteroid passing by the magnitude 5 star in Draco.

2014 JO25 sky chart

Credit: Eddie Irizarry/Earth Sky

Small telescopes might be able to see the asteroid, but your best bet is with an 8-inch telescope or larger.

You can keep tabs of all the near-Earth objects we know about at the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).



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