A giant 460-foot-wide “Christmas Asteroid” will fly past Earth this week — as YOU can see

A space rock up to 460 feet wide dubbed the “Christmas Asteroid” will hurtle past Earth this festive season.

The object, which does not pose a threat to our planet, will come within 680,000 km (420,000 miles) at its closest approach on Thursday.

Stargazers in the southern hemisphere will have the best view of the asteroid – but those in Europe can see it until December 19, too.

To mark the close approach, the European Space Agency is calling on amateur astronomers to find and photograph space rock 2015 RN35.

Look up!  A space rock up to 460 feet wide dubbed the 'Christmas Asteroid' will hurtle past Earth this festive season (stock image)

Look up! A space rock up to 460 feet wide dubbed the ‘Christmas Asteroid’ will hurtle past Earth this festive season (stock image)

Key Details: The object, which does not pose a threat to our planet, will come within 686 km (420,000 miles) at its closest approach on Thursday

Key Details: The object, which does not pose a threat to our planet, will come within 686 km (420,000 miles) at its closest approach on Thursday

IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT THE CHRISTMAS ASTEROID

Surname: 2015 RN35 (Christmas Asteroid)

Size: 196 feet – 460 feet (60-140 meters)

discovery date: September 9, 2015

Closest approach to Earth: 420,000 miles (679,800 km)

Time of closest approach: 08:10 GMT (03:10 ET) on December 15, 2022

“We don’t call this a challenge for nothing. 2015 RN35 will not shine as brightly in the sky as the Star of Bethlehem did millennia ago,” the agency said in a blog post on its website.

‘No. This asteroid is smaller than the Statue of Liberty and quite small by astronomical standards. And on flybys, at just under twice the distance to the moon, there probably won’t be any headlines in the newspapers.’

Still, ESA said telescopes 11 inches (30 cm) and larger should be able to spot the Christmas asteroid.

‘We look forward to your observations!’ added the agency.

“Use the hashtag #ESAChristmasAsteroid on social media to share your findings which we will be sharing on our @esaoperations channel.”

The asteroid is particularly interesting for scientists because it is so little known.

Experts don’t know what it’s made of, exactly how big it is, or if it rotates on its own axis.

They also don’t know its orbit very well, although they have confirmed that it won’t hit Earth for at least the next century.

This uncertainty makes it like hundreds of thousands of similar sized asteroids out there.

While almost all giant planet-killers have been found by scientists, most medium-sized asteroids like this Christmas asteroid have yet to be discovered.

Experts believe there are several hundred thousand of them that could cause major damage in a local area if they hit Earth.

The asteroid is particularly interesting for scientists because it is so little known.  While almost all giant planet-killers have been found by scientists, most medium-sized asteroids like this Christmas asteroid have yet to be discovered.

The asteroid is particularly interesting for scientists because it is so little known. While almost all giant planet-killers have been found by scientists, most medium-sized asteroids like this Christmas asteroid have yet to be discovered

Stargazers in the southern hemisphere will have the best view of the asteroid - but those in Europe can see it until December 19, too

Stargazers in the southern hemisphere will have the best view of the asteroid – but those in Europe can see it until December 19, too

To help amateur and professional astronomers spot the Christmas asteroid, ESA has a “toolkit” available to all free of charge.

It allows people to visualize the orbit of the space rock and its flyby on December 15, including the time when it will be visible from different locations on Earth.

Observers using the new Near-Earth Object (NEO) toolkit can also learn more about the Apollo Group of asteroids it is part of while planning how and where to spot it, depending on where they are located exactly in the world.

ESA’s asteroid toolkit was created by the Rome-based agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center (NEOCC).

“We use these tools every day to plan our observations, visualize asteroid approaches, and help us understand and explain the different asteroid populations in the solar system and the risks we face,” said Juan- Luis Cano, Information Systems Manager at NEOCC.

“We want them to be as useful to the rest of the world as they are to us, because defending the planet is a global effort.”

Experts don't know the orbit of the Christmas asteroid very well, but they have confirmed that it won't hit Earth for at least the next century

Experts don’t know the orbit of the Christmas asteroid very well, but they have confirmed that it won’t hit Earth for at least the next century

Richard Moissl, ESA’s Head of Planetary Defense said: “This is the kind of work ESA’s NEOCC does every day, often with even dimmer asteroids using even larger telescopes, like the European Very Large Telescope (VLT). Southern Observatory and others in the NEOCC network of rapid access telescopes spans the globe.

“With these observations, we determine the movement of asteroids and project their trajectories into the future to know if – when – an asteroid might impact.

“As the recent DART impact has shown, and as ESA’s Hera mission continues to expand, an asteroid impact is the only natural disaster that we can prevent with advance warning.”

The Asteroid Hunt Toolkit includes the Observation Planning Tool, Sky Chart Display Tool, Orbit Visualization Tool, and Flyby Visualization Tool.

More information on usage can be found here.

If you liked this article…

Stargazing fans can also enjoy the Geminid meteor shower, which will peak tomorrow night (Wednesday).

And a new interactive map brought the 1998 film Deep Impact to life, allowing users to drop a space rock anywhere in the world to see the devastation unfold

A study also suggests that dinosaurs were indeed in their prime and not in their decline when a giant asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago

Explained: The difference between an asteroid, meteorite and other space rocks

A asteroid is a large boulder left over from collisions or the early solar system. Most are located between Mars and Jupiter in the Main Belt.

A comet is a rock covered with ice, methane and other compounds. Their orbits take them much further out of the solar system.

A meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.

This debris itself is referred to as a meteoroid. Most are so small that they evaporate in the atmosphere.

When one of these meteoroids makes it to Earth, it is referred to as an a meteorite.

Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites usually come from asteroids and comets.

For example, when Earth passes the tail of a comet, much of the debris in the atmosphere burns up, forming a meteor shower.

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