Imagine an object the size of Empire State Building? It’s huge and so is the upcoming asteroid that will zip past the Earth at approximately 900,000 miles. Named as asteroid 2017 VR12, researchers claim that the object is around 1600ft in diameter and its close interaction with Earth makes it a ‘Potentially hazardous’ near-Earth Object. The asteroid will pass near the Earth on March 7 at 2:53 a.m. EST. It will be the 19th asteroid encounter in 2018 and 3rd in the month of March 2018.
Researchers at Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at Jet Propulsion Laboratory stated that estimating the size of an asteroid located at a great distance is difficult. It is because a distant object, in this case, an asteroid, is merely a point of light in the space when telescopes are pointed towards it which makes it incredibly difficult to gauge the size of that object. Moreover, astronomers can estimate the size of an asteroid based upon its brightness, although chances of uncertainties are higher. To put things into context, researchers can calculate the size based on the luminosity of an asteroid but it is probable that a small asteroid glows brighter than a large object that glows darker which will create uncertainties in the calculations.
The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center and NASA’s JPL have estimated the size of asteroid 2017 VR12 between 490ft and 1600ft in diameter as per its magnitude. At its smallest size, it is as large as the Great Pyramid of Giza (480ft) in Egypt. Even if scientists consider its largest estimated size i.e. 1600ft, it is still a small near-Earth Object(NEO) when compared to the two largest known NEO’s which are about 18.5 miles in diameter. This certainly categorizes the incoming asteroid as ‘mid-sized’. Researchers who discovered this object in 2017 categorized it under ‘Amor’ type of object which simply means a near-earth asteroids’ orbit that will not intercept the orbit of Earth. This means, it is safe and definitely won’t cast any danger for the human civilization.
The asteroid is estimated to pass close to the Earth at 2:53 EST within the approximate distance that can be intercepted by radars. Thus, this asteroid is presumed to be a great and rare opportunity. The astronomers will be able to track its orbit and progression at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and Goldstone Solar System Radar in the Mojave Desert. This will enable the researchers to get more information about the surface, shape, and size of this asteroid and even capture an image. if plausible. According to NASA, the agency has data depicting the orbit of the asteroid since an asteroid has its own orbit. It will not intercept the orbit of the Earth as it will be around four lunar distance from Earth even if it is closest. This makes the object safe and most importantly, it will be seen using mid-sized and even a small 6-inch home telescope making it visible for even amateurs.
The asteroid will pass near Earth at a velocity of 4 miles per second. It is perhaps estimated to have a magnitude of 12. It will be visible for those living in the northern hemisphere and visible using small home telescopes as aforementioned. But to observe the asteroid zip through, the observers must have a good ephemeris i.e. knowledge about the precise prediction of where to point the telescope in order to get a glimpse of this measly asteroid and of course, a dark sky as a background for better visibility. If you are excited to watch the asteroid that will fly by Earth, the Virtual Telescope Project will be showing a live stream on its website.
Information About Asteroid 2017 VR12
The asteroid was discovered by Pan-STARRS 1 on November 10, 2017, and it was named “2017 VR12”. The asteroid reached 16th magnitude during four weeks of February and March 2018 and then, dipped to a 12th magnitude for 3 days in March 2018 as it is estimated to flyby Earth of March 7. The asteroid will be visible for even small telescopes for three days. This is not the first close call by this asteroid to Earth, however, it is the closest of them all. According to the data available, the asteroid passed close to the Earth on March 16, 1865, and then on March 04, 1915 and the third flyby was on March 12, 1968. As per its orbit, it will fly by Earth on March 19, 2026, and then on March 10, 2079. Other interactions will be in March 2100, March 2166, March 2187 and finally on March 2216.