A 'Christmas asteroid' will pass by on December 15
An asteroid, smaller than the Statue of Liberty, is headed toward Earth and the ESA has announced a challenge to spot this "Christmas asteroid." Dubbed 2015 RN35, it will cross us at 686,000km on December 15 at 1:42 pm IST. Observers in Southern Hemisphere will get the best view of its closest approach and it will still be visible to Europe until December 19.
Why does this story matter?
- Asteroids often whiz past our planet, and fortunately, the majority of them fly by without causing any harm.
- However, there is always a chance of last-minute deflections which can hurtle the space rocks straight toward us.
- Thankfully, there is no need to worry because the 2015 RN35 has zero chance of making an impact, at least for the next hundred years.
The rock's visual magnitude will be similar to Pluto
The 'Christmas' asteroid was discovered in September 2015 and measures approximately 60-140m wide. From December 15-17, the asteroid will have a visual magnitude below 14 in the night sky, which can be compared to that of Pluto. It can be detected by 30cm and larger telescopes. The distance between the asteroid and the Earth, as it crosses, will be under two lunar distances.
How to participate in ESA's challenge?
If you manage to spot the Christmas asteroid, then share your pictures on either Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Reddit with the hashtag #ESAChristmasAsteroid. If you happen to miss this body, then you catch another one, called the 2010 XC15 on December 27.
Why is the Christmas asteroid important?
Most of the huge planet-killer asteroids have been discovered, but middle-sized ones like the Christmas asteroid aren't well documented. "We don't know what it's made of or precisely how big it is or if it's spinning on its axis or even know its orbit particularly well," said ESA. Such near-Earth objects can provide significant insights into the composition and trajectory of potentially hazardous objects.