An asteroid as big as the Rock of Gibraltar will streak past Earth on April 19 at a safe but still uncomfortably close distance, according to astronomers. “Although there is no possibility for the asteroid to collide with our planet, this will be a very close approach for an asteroid this size,” NASA said in a statement.
2014-J25 was discovered in May 2014 by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona. Dubbed 2014-JO25 and roughly 650 meters across, the asteroid will come within 1.8 million kilometers of Earth, less than five times the distance to the Moon. It will pass closest to our planet after having looped around the Sun. 2014-J25’s will then continue on past Jupiter before heading back toward the center of our Solar System. The last time 2014-JO25 was in our immediate neighborhood was 400 years ago, and it’s next brush with Earth won’t happen until sometime after 2600. Furthermore, besides its size and trajectory, scientists also know that its surface is twice as reflective as that of the Moon. It should be visible with a small optical telescope for one or two nights before moving out of range.
The April 19 flyby is an outstanding opportunity for astronomers and amateur stargazers, NASA said. “Astronomers plan to observe it with telescopes around the world to learn as much about it as possible,” said the US space agency. In addition on April 19, a comet known as PanSTARRS will make its closest approach to Earth at a “very safe” distance of 175 million kilometers, according to NASA.The comet has brightened recently and should be visible in the dawn sky with binoculars or a small telescope.
Smaller asteroids whizz by Earth several times a week. But the last time one at least this size came as close was in 2004, when Toutatis—five kilometers across—passed within four lunar distances. The next close encounter with a big rock will not happen before 2027, when the 800-meter wide asteroid 199-AN10 will fly by at just one lunar distance, about 380,000 kilometers.