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Thursday, 14 June 2012

Passing space rock to become internet star!

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Asteroids whizz past Earth all the time. Asteroid 2012 LZ1 is no different really.
It's brighter than most. It's a relatively svelte 500 meters wide, and it will miss Earth by 14 times the distance to the Moon. It would also make a real mess of your country if it crashed into it, but there's no danger of it doing so, although it does come close enough to earn the title 'Potentially Hazardous Asteroid'. And 2012 LZ1 will be at its 14 lunar distances closest to Earth late tonight.

Just one thing before I go on: This tiny fragment of world was discovered on Sunday, which is a bit short notice for me. I mean, yes, it's going to miss but if it had been one of the rare ones that hit Earth... well three days isn't long to do much. More funding, for the detection of huge space rocks heading for us at 22,000 kph, might be nice.

Just a thought.

But 2012 LZ1 has that special, indefinable thing: Star quality. The proof? The Slooh space camera team are planning to make 2012 LZ1 the star of a live webcast [1]!

2012 LZ1 Animation - June 13, 2012, by N. Howes, E. Guido & G. Sostero
Video right: Asteroid 2012LZ1 (the bright white flying jellybean thing) as seen last night through a 2 meter telescope. Image courtesy of the Remanzacco Observatory [2].

The webcast will start at 00:00 UTC tonight, and the asteroids closest approach is about 23.10 UTC. The International Astronomical Union Minor Planets Centre has all the detail needed [3] to track the big little fella, if you want to have a go yourself!

I'm guessing from its unusual brightness that this is a metallic or  stony, rather than carbon rich, asteroid, but we'll have to wait to find out!

By the way, if you watch the webcast, try something for me? Instead of thinking of this ancient rock as 'up there', try thinking of it as 'over there'.
'Up there' sounds....kind of inaccessible, separate from us, not a part of our world-view. But 'over there'.......something that's 'over there' is something we could travel to, something that we could affect, and which could affect us.
OK, I'm wittering, but my laboured point is: Space surrounds us in all directions. Earth was born in it, from things like 2012 LZ1. And as today shows, there are still lots of them about. Space is an 'over there' thing.

No, I'm not on drugs. Apart from hayfever tablets. I'm always like this! Imagine what my daughter has to put up with. Well, she's two, so she hasn't grasped what Daddy is like, yet..... But really, try it, you might find that that little speck, somehow looks, a lot closer.

Now, on a totally different note: I have a game for you (if that sounded creepy then you've watched too many 'Saw' movies, it was perfectly innocent*):

Can you guess what this is?

I'll tell you on Saturday!

*That sounds even creepier doesn't it? D'oh, don't run away, I'm nice, really!

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