Asteroid to pass between Earth and moon Tuesday evening

Monday, November 7, 2011 | 4:22 p.m. CST; updated 5:27 p.m. CST, Monday, November 7, 2011
This image made from radar data taken in April 2010 by the Arecibo Radar Telescope in Puerto Rico and provided by NASA/Cornell/Arecibo shows asteroid 2005 YU55. The asteroid, bigger than an aircraft carrier, will dart between the Earth and moon Tuesday — the closest encounter by such a huge rock in 35 years.

The asteroid 2005 YU55 is invisible to the naked eye, a quarter of a mile long across, and if it came in contact with Columbia, it could wipe out a section of the city stretching from Faurot Field to Rock Bridge State Park.

On Tuesday evening between 7 and 11 p.m., professional and amateur astronomers in Columbia will be able to watch the asteroid pass between the Earth and the moon and through three constellations.

NASA classifies the asteroid as potentially hazardous, but it poses no threat of hitting Earth for at least the next 100 years. This will, however, be the closest approach to Earth by an object this large in 35 years. It is the first time that astronomers have been aware of its passing far enough in advance to study in depth.

According to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for anyone on the ground looking to catch a glimpse of the asteroid, they’ll need a telescope with an aperture of six inches or larger.

“It will sort of look like a bright star moving against the other stars,” said Val Germann, secretary and treasurer of the Central Missouri Astronomical Association.

Germann and members of the Central Missouri Astronomical Association plan to view the asteroid's flight at the Wildhaven Observatory between Columbia and Hallsville, weather permitting. 

Angela Speck, MU director of Astronomy, said there are no current plans to host a viewing of the asteroid at Laws Observatory because the weather is projected to be rainy and overcast with little visibility. She said the dome may open up if the weather clears in time.

2005 YU55 is classified as a C-type asteroid meaning scientists believe that it may contain carbon-based materials. These types of asteroids are believed to have brought essential ingredients of life, perhaps even water, to our Earth.

“Seeing things like an asteroid so close to Earth, it’s a reminder that we’re just part of the whole of space. I mean, the only thing protecting us from something like that (2005 YU55) is pure luck," Germann said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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