Asteroid Pays Sky A Visit This Week
UPDATED 9:15 PM EST, December 13, 2012
By WeatherBug Meteorologist, Andrew Rosenthal
Space enthusiasts will have reason to celebrate this week, as our sky will be visited by an asteroid. It won`t be large enough to see with the naked eye, but with a good set of binoculars or a telescope, residents of the U.S. should be able to view the object.
The asteroid Toutatis will move across southeast part of the sky each night through Friday as it makes its closest approach to our home planet. Toutatis is a moderate sized, lumpy shaped asteroid, measuring about 3 miles by 1.5 by 1 mile. By comparison, the asteroid responsible for killing the dinosaurs was about 6 miles across.
If this asteroid were to hit Earth, the result would be devastating. Fortunately, the asteroid will still be 4.3 million miles, more than 18 times further away than the moon, away, so the fear of crashing does not exist this time around. In fact, scientists believe that we are safe from Toutatis for at least the next 600 years.
Toutatis orbits the sun every four years, meaning that it is visible in the sky for half of a week every four years. The timing is perfect this year, with the new moon - its least visible time of the month - taking place. To find Toutatis, you`ll need to look in the evening sky toward the southeast. Specifically, the asteroid will be travelling across the constellations of Pisces and Cetus, about 5 to 10 degrees above the horizon.
While the asteroid is close to Earth, Chinese scientists are taking the opportunity to study it. The Chang`e 2 probe, which was launched in 2010 to study the moon, will take a side trip to Toutatis, circling within a couple hundred miles of the asteroid. The scientists hope to learn more about asteroids, so they can be better predicted.
If you don`t own a telescope, check out this live video
from WeatherBug Partner Dexter-Southfield School in Brookline, Mass., and see the weather conditions at the Live Tracking Station. While you`re out watching the skies for Toutatis, be sure to watch for the Geminid meteor shower.
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Story image: The radar image of Toutatis was taken in 1996 at the Goldstone Observatory in California (Wikimedia Commons).
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