Watch the approach of asteroid YU55 live on the Web
Grade A super geeks, set your watches. NASA says that at precisely 3:28 p.m. Pacific (6:28 p.m. Eastern), asteroid YU55 will be as close to planet Earth as it's going to get during this particular pass-by.
But, if you can't get to a dark place by that time, don't fear -- you can watch the asteroid's approach live via Slooh.com, which is capturing the asteroid's approach via telescopes on the Canary Islands.
Long live the Internet!
The approach of the asteroid is definitely something to be celebrated, not feared.
Scientists say there is absolutely no chance of a collision between our planet and the asteroid, which is about a quarter of a mile in diameter, or roughly the size of an aircraft carrier. Although YU55 is the largest asteroid to come this close to Earth since 1976, it will still come only within about 200,000 miles of the planet. That makes it closer to us than the moon, but not close enough to have an effect on the atmosphere or the tides.
In fact, it's not even close enough to see with the naked eye. Alan MacRobert, senior editor of Sky & Telescope, explained that YU55 will be 11th magnitude at best on Tuesday night, which means it will be 100 times dimmer than what you could see with the naked eye in a perfectly dark, wilderness sky.
In order to see YU55, you would need a 6- to 8-inch telescope, as well as experience in reading and using a detailed sky chart.
NASA will continue to release images of the asteroid as they are taken, and in the meantime, here's a cool fact about asteroids courtesy of Don Yeomans, a senior research scientist at JPL who studies near-Earth objects.
"Asteroids may literally pave the way to building future structures in space," he says in a statement on JPL's website.
"Examination of meteorites suggests that the average near-Earth asteroid has a higher concentration of precious metals, such as platinum, than the richest known ore on Earth. These raw materials may also be more accessible, since some asteroids are easier to reach and return from than the moon. Comets may be about 30 percent water ice, which could be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen -- the most efficient form of rocket fuel."
Photo: This radar image of asteroid YU55 was obtained Nov. 7 at 11:45 a.m. Pacific (2:45 p.m. Eastern), when the space rock was at 3.6 lunar distances, which is about 860,000 miles, or 1.38 million kilometers, from Earth. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech