A large asteroid passes safely by Earth on Monday

A large asteroid passes safely by Earth on Monday
Big asteroid 2013NK4 (shown in white) has an elliptical orbit that passes through the orbit of Mars (red) and between the orbits of Venus (pink) and Mercury (purple). It revolves around the sun every 378 days. It will pass safely across Earth (in blue) on Monday, April 15, 2024. Image via NASA.

A large asteroid will pass safely by Earth

A large space rock will safely pass through Earth today (April 15, 2024). It is large enough to be seen with a small telescope! The asteroid has been named 2013NK4. It is about 2,000 feet (610 meters) in diameter. This makes it two times larger than Apophis, the so-called doomsday asteroid that will pass near Earth's satellites in 2029. Meanwhile, today, 2013 NK4 will pass at a much farther distance. It sweeps past at more than 8 times the distance of the Moon. What's so amazing about that? People using telescopes will be able to watch it fly close to Earth!

The closest approach of asteroid 2013 NK4 will occur on Monday, April 15, 2024, at 14:51 UTC. However, due to its position in the sky, it will be easier to see through a telescope on the nights of April 16 and 17. See search charts below.

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Asteroid orbit

Since the asteroid occasionally passes close to Earth and is a fairly large space rock, 2013 NK4 has a scary designation: A potentially dangerous asteroid. However, we have known about asteroid 2013 NK4 since 2013 (hence naming the year after it), and it has a well-defined orbit. There will be no danger at all as it passes by Earth on April 15.

2013 NK4 orbits the Sun every 378 days. But its orbit is slightly more elliptical than ours. Its orbit extends beyond Mars and then dips between the orbits of Venus and Mercury. The asteroid will pass by our planet at a speed of 36,909 miles per hour (59,400 kilometers per hour), or 10.2 miles per second (16.5 kilometers per second) relative to Earth.

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Use the telescope to see the large asteroid

The use of “GoTo” or computerized telescopes makes observing the asteroid easier than ever before. You will be able to see the asteroid in the eyepiece of a telescope or monitor as a slowly moving point of light in front of the background stars.

A star chart showing the location of 2013 NK4 on April 16, 2024.
Here's a wide view of the sky on Tuesday, April 16, 2024 at 10:45 PM CDT. Visit Stellarium To get an accurate view of these constellations on April 16 from your location on Earth. Illustration via Eddie Irizarry / Stellarium.
A star chart showing the location of 2013 NK4 on April 16, 2024.
Closer look. Observers using a computerized telescope or Go-To telescope can point their instruments toward one of these reference stars around 10:45 PM CDT on April 16 to try to spot asteroid 2013 NK4. The asteroid is supposed to appear in the form of a “slow-moving star” passing in front of the fixed stars in the sky. Illustration via Eddie Irizarry / Stellarium.
A star chart showing the location of 2013 NK4 on April 17, 2024.
Here's a wide view of the sky on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 at 10 PM CST. Visit Stellarium To get an accurate view of these constellations on April 17 from your location on Earth. Illustration via Eddie Irizarry / Stellarium.
A star chart showing the location of 2013 NK4 on April 17, 2024.
Closer look. Observers using a computerized telescope or Go-To telescope can point their instruments toward one of these reference stars around 10 p.m. CST on April 17 to try to spot asteroid 2013 NK4. The asteroid is supposed to appear in the form of a “slow-moving star” passing in front of the fixed stars in the sky. Illustration via Eddie Irizarry / Stellarium.

NASA will study NK4

According to NASA/JPL, astronomers will study the space rock using a 230-foot (70-meter) DSS-14 Goldstone radar antenna In California from April 13 to 19. Also, on April 14, observations of this object are scheduled from Canberra, Australia, using a 34-meter (112 ft) NASA DSS-35 dish antenna.

Scientists expect to obtain highly detailed delay Doppler images, which should show the shape of the asteroid and perhaps allow them to better refine the size of the space rock.

Bottom line: A large asteroid — 2013 NK4, which spans about 2,000 feet across — will safely pass by Earth on April 15, 2024. It will be visible with small telescopes on April 16 and 17.

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