Asteroid 2004 BL86 visible in your telescope


Sky map showing the track of asteroid 2004 BL86 across the evening sky. Image credit:, made with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap program.

In our previous article we already introduced you to a big asteroid that is coming into our neighborhood soon: Asteroid 2004 BL86 will pass by at approximately 3.1 lunar distances (or 1.2 million kilometers). Thanks to its size (somewhere around 680m in diameter) the asteroid will even be visible through small telescopes and maybe even through large binoculars.

The asteroid will pass closest to Earth on the evening of Monday the 26th of January. When it does it will be the largest asteroid to approach the direct neighborhood of Earth for quite a long time. The next one is projected to be asteroid 1999 AN10, that will visit in 2027.

Trajectory of 2004 BL86 when it passes by the Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Due to the large size of the asteroid it is expected to reach a magnitude of +9.0 and will be best visible for observers in the Americas, Europe and Africa. It will move across the evening sky at a noticable rate, so if you follow it with a telescope you should be able to see it move through your field of view. It will move at approximately 2 degrees per hour(four Moon diameters).

To track the asteroid you will need a sky map such as this image to find it in the sky. Note that the position of the asteroid might vary slightly depending on where you are on the Earth. You can also use software such as Starry Night, Guide, MegaStar and others to generate such a map and find the current position of asteroid. For this you can find the latest orbital data of the object here.

Next to all the amateur astronomers that will surely be trying to find the asteroid in their telescopes, NASA is also going to have a look using the big radar observatories at Arecibo in Puerto Rico and Goldstone, California. They will try to bounce microwaves of the surface of the asteroid to get a clearer picture of how it actually looks.

Dawn spacecraft is approaching the asteroid Ceres

View of Ceres during the approach of the Dawn spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The Dawn spacecraft mission by NASA has returned a first image of its final target: The dwarf planet Ceres. Ceres is the main body in the asteroid belt that lays between Mars and Jupiter. The Dawn spacecraft calibrated its cameras by taking this image from the planet towards which it is heading.

As is required for an object to be called a dwarf planet, Ceres is large enough that it has shaped itself into a ball by means of its own gravity. It is however still quite small: approximately 950km in diameter (as to 12742km for Earth and 3474km for the Moon). Ceres is the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system and it will be the first dwarf planet to be visited by a spacecraft when Dawn arrives there in the beginning of 2015. The second one that will be visited is Pluto, that will be reached by the New Horizons mission from NASA near the end of 2015. Both these two dwarf planets are interresting objects of study, as they both can help us understand how our solar system looked when it was first formed. This will bring us more information on what kind of objects are all traveling around there in the asteroid belt (where Ceres is) and the Kuiper belt (where Pluto is). This understanding will also help us to determine which object might ever become a threat to Earth and how we can mitigate this threat, as some NEOs are supposed to originate from these regions.

“Mountain-sized” asteroid fortunatly not on collision course

Trajectory of asteroid 2014 UR116Trajectory simulation of asteroid 2014 UR116. Credit: NASA/JPL

Near Earth Objects are discovered quite regularly, but fortunatly they are often small and their orbits pose no threat to Earth. This week however Russian scientists announced they found an object that was getting a bit to close for comfort: The “mountain-sized” astroid that they found, going by the designation 2014 UR116, was initially projected by them to pass so close to Earth that it could pose a real risk. Their announcement triggered more observations of this space rock by NASA and the Minor Plant Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their conclusion: the asteroid comes close to Earth, but there is no risk of collision. Phew!

The asteroid was discovered by astronomers from Kislovodsk, Russia and is approximately 400m in diameter. This means it would be a big disaster if it were to hit Earth. Russian scientist Vladimir Lipunov, who discovered the asteroid has stated that it poses no immediate danger. This is also the statement from NASA after a closer investigation: The asteroid 2014 UR116 is in an 3-year orbit around the sun that takes it into Earths neighborhood periodically, but it does not form a threat as it does not pass significantly close to the Earth.

After their investigation it turned out that this asteroid was actually observed before, 6 years ago. Using the data gathered during both observations the trajectory of the asteroid was computed and estimated for the future. The conclusion of this analysis was that the asteroid does not form an impact thread in the next 150 years. As said, the asteroid will now and then approach the Earth quite closely: In 2017 it will pass the Earth at approximately 29x the Earth-Moon distance. Maybe you will then see the asteroid on our homepage as the “next close approach” NEO.

David Morrisons NEO News (28th of November)


On 30 November, Hayabusa 2 will lift off from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center on a 6-year round trip to asteroid 1999 JU3. If all goes as planned, it should bring home samples not just from the asteroid’s surface but also from beneath it, by blasting a crater and collecting ejecta.


Leonard David, in Space News, November 20 (heavily edited)

The danger of an asteroid smacking into Earth is a clear and present hazard, underscored by the huge fireball and shattering explosion that occurred over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013. A dedicated United Nations Action Team 14 has been deliberating over the years regarding the gathering and analysis of near-Earth object (NEO) data to provide timely warnings to national authorities should a potentially hazardous NEO threaten Earth. That work, in part, has helped produce an International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN).

A workshop hosted by the Secure World Foundation in September brought experts together to discuss the IAWN, which operates independently of the United Nations. “We made very good progress toward identifying the main issues involved with communicating with the media and public regarding warnings of possible NEO impacts and other related issues,” said workshop participant Sergio Camacho, who chairs the U.N. Action Team on NEOs — a group that was established in 2001.

Workshop participants agreed that honing NEO-speak communiqués for the public and politicians will not be a simple task. For example, How will different audiences around the world receive and respond to IAWN messages, given the range among them of cultural and political contexts, leadership changes and current events; and of definitions and translation issues as well as religious beliefs and world views? “Communicating about any future asteroid threat will not be easy,” said Michael Simpson, SWF’s Executive Director. “People will need messages they can act on,” he told, “and they will deserve to know the limitations on what modern science can predict.”

“It is not just about crafting the right message, but also about understanding the different audiences, how they respond to information and how this impacts decision making,” Laura Delgado López told

It is of paramount importance that this communication take place as early as possible and through channels that will reach as many people as possible, José Luis Galache said. “There is no point to discovering an impending danger from an asteroid if it’s not then possible to warn those who will be affected by it. Effective communication of the NEO hazard or imminent threat by a particular asteroid is paramount and just as important as NEO discovery.”

To read the full report, “Workshop on Communicating about Asteroid Impact Warnings and Mitigation Plans,” go to:


JPL Press Release, November 14 (heavily edited)

Data gathered by U.S. government sensors and released to NASA for use by the science community reveal that these small impact events are frequent and random. A map of these small impact events – known as fireballs or bolides – recently released by NASA shows the frequency and approximate energy released by bolide events detected from 1994 through 2013. It dwarfs a data-base of small impacts based on infra-sound detections released last fall, but it does not contain all fireballs – objects less than a meter in size – that impacted the Earth during this period.

Over this 20-year interval, U.S. Government assets recorded at least 556 bolide events of various energies. On this world map illustration, the size of the orange dots (daytime events) and blue dots (nighttime events) are proportional to the optical radiated energy of the impact event measured in billions of Joules (GJ) of energy. An approximate conversion between the measured optical radiant energy and the total impact energy can be made using an empirical relationship provided by Peter Brown and colleagues in 2002. For example the smallest dot on the map represents1 billion Joules (1 GJ) of optical radiant energy, or when expressed in terms of a total impact energy the equivalent of about 5 tons of TNT explosives. Likewise, the dots representing 100, 10,000 and 1,000,000 GJ of optical radiant energies correspond to impact energies of about 300 tons, 18,000 tons and one million tons of TNT explosives respectively.

The largest impact energy recorded during this 20-year interval was the recent daytime Chelyabinsk event (440,000 – 500,000 tons of TNT) recorded over central Russia on February 15, 2013. This small asteroid was about 20 meters in size before it hit the Earth. While that impact focused public attention on the potential hazards of NEO impacts with Earth, space scientists have long known that such events are just a part of Earth’s geologic history.

Every day, Earth is bombarded with more than 100 tons of dust and sand-sized particles from space. About once a year, an automobile-sized asteroid hits Earth’s atmosphere, creating a spectacular fireball (bolide) event as the friction of the Earth’s atmosphere causes them to disintegrate – sometimes explosively.

Studies of Earth’s history indicate that about once every 5,000 years or so on average an object the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage. Once every few million years on average an object large enough to cause regional or global disaster impacts Earth. Impact craters on Earth, the Moon and other planetary bodies are evidence of these occurrences.

For a documented list of bolide events, see:



Selected Q&A from interview with Yvonne Pendleton (SSERVI Director)
Space News, November 24

Why was SSERVI formed?
The institute was created because complex science and engineering challenges require expertise and resources across many disciplines. By eliminating geographical constraints, the virtual institute model enables us to select the best investigations, teams and resources to address NASA’s current goals, regardless of where team members or infrastructure are located.

What do you focus on?
We tried to come up with questions we would need to answer before people travel beyond low Earth orbit. The topics include things like trying to understand how small bodies would outgas material. If you were approaching one, you would need to understand that. From a science perspective, volatiles are incredibly interesting to people who want to understand the origin, evolution and composition of these bodies.

What has SSERVI accomplished?
We picked teams in November. I got the teams together in December and asked them to come up with ideas for collaboration. They formed a long list and they’ve been marching right down that list. One was the idea of having a shared repository of samples that team members collect. If they go into the field to collect meteorites or rock samples that other teams want to analyze, they work from the same rock. They also share facilities, laboratory resources and students. Some teams are taking other teams’ students with them on trips to analog work sites. The teams are already publishing papers together.

Why is SSERVI at NASA Ames?
Ames is home to all of NASA’s virtual institutes: the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the NASA Aeronautics Research Institute and SSERVI (replacing NLSI). Ames is an innovative center. People here are very interested in cost-savings approaches to exploration. I think the institutes are thriving because we are in the heart of Silicon Valley. We pick up a lot of virtual tools hot off the press and introduce them to our community.


David Morrisons NEO News (now in its nineteenth year of distribution) is an informal compilation of news and opinion dealing with Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and their impacts. These opinions are the responsibility of the individual authors and do not represent the positions of NASA, Ames Research Center, the International Astronomical Union, NEOShield, or any other organization. If anyone wishes to copy or redistribute original material from these notes, fully or in part, please include this disclaimer.