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Asteroid to pass by Earth on Sunday. Wave hello to 'the Beast!'

NASAJet Propulsion LaboratoryAstronomical Events
An asteroid the size of a city block buzzes by our planet Sunday
Heads up! An asteroid nicknamed 'the Beast' will zip past Earth on Sunday

An asteroid the length of a New York city block will zip past Earth on Sunday, June 8, coming within 770,000 miles of our planet at its closest approach.

Nicknamed "the Beast," it has been designated a "potentially hazardous asteroid" because of its size (between 800 and 1,300 feet) and because of how close it will get to Earth.

No need to worry though. There is absolutely no chance it will hit us (as 770,000 miles is still more than three times the distance between the moon and Earth).

Asteroids this size pass this close to Earth once every few years, said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Yeomans and his team have been able to calculate the orbit of the asteroid out to the year 2200, and they see no possible chance that it will hit Earth in that time period.

That's a very good thing, because an asteroid this size could destroy a city if it slammed into the right (or wrong) spot.

This particular asteroid, officially called 2014 HQ124, was discovered in April by NASA's NEOWISE mission, a wide-field infrared space telescope that has been repurposed to hunt for comets and asteroids.

NEOWISE's observations show that the asteroid is reflecting a fair amount of light, said Amy Mainzer, the principal investigator of NEOWISE at the JPL. That offers researchers some hints to its composition.

"It's likely that this object is rocky, rather than the dark, carbonaceous class of asteroids that are covered with extremely dark material," Mainzer said in an email to the Los Angeles Times. "It's also possible that it's a metallic asteroid."

She added: "The reflectivity gives a clue as to what it's made of, although it's far from a foolproof diagnostic."

You won't be able to see this asteroid for yourself because even at its closest approach it will be far too dim. But it's still cool to know about -- a lonely space rock, tumbling by, 770,000 miles overhead.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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