Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Two things to watch for in tonight's skies (worldwide)

Given that I have an endless fascination with space (pun intended) I long ago discovered and subscribe to a list that generates news on a regular basis about the interesting events in our skies. Fittingly, the site is called SpaceWeather and I encourage you to subscribe since you get notices about planetary watches, solar flares, sun spots, eclipses and the like.  You don't have to have a telescope to enjoy many of it's offerings.

Yesterday's email from them had the following information that I thought worthy enough to blog about.  Apparently, today (November 8, 2011) at 23:28 UT (or 6:28 p.m. EST) an asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier is moseying on by our planet.  By 'moseying' I mean it will be closer to our planet than our moon.  So maybe I should say 'cozy'-ing.  Seriously.  That's close.  An object estimated to be 400m wide is coming within 85% of the distance of our moon to the earth (or .85 LD = lunar distance i.e. the distance from the earth to the moon).  This type of asteroid is called a PHA (Potentially Hazardous Asteorid) and is exceptional due to the proximity it has to the earth.  The email notifying me of this event assured me that "There is no danger to our planet.".   Um, wev.  Even if they are wrong, this NASA site assures me:

"Many objects with sizes ranging up to about a kilometer will hit the Earth in the next one thousand to ten million years. These impacts could produce damaging blast waves, earthquakes, fires, and tidal waves, but the area affected will be less than the size of the U.S. Except for a direct hit on a major population center, the greatest damage may be done by tidal waves sweeping entire ocean coastlines ... These objects could kill millions of people, but the damage is not greater than that from other natural events such as earthquakes."

A few years back I subscribed to a now BBC owned British magazine called "Focus". It was/is full of really geeky science and technology news all laid out in full glossy print with lots of pictures...many of them technical.  At one point during my subscription, the magazine had an article about asteroids (and today's asteroid is actually on the main splash page of their website today).  The take away point, for me, from that first asteroid article was the fact that our worldwide governments haven't funded well placed asteroid observation stations so, as a planet, we could be sideswiped by an asteroid at any time.  Now, please correct me if I'm wrong, but in the years subsequent to my reading of this article I haven't seen a lot of announcements regarding funding of asteroid 'watch' stations.  So, I think the fact remains that unexpected collisions with undiscovered large asteroids still remain a risk (albeit a small one).  Especially when you note the *daily* update of this list of PHAs (they are discovered all the time!).

I suspect that if an asteroid, expected or not, wipes out a portion of our planet in my lifetime, we won't be wondering whether or not it was tracked.  Because even if it is was, there is nearly nothing that can be done about it given the nebulous state of our asteroid defense technology.

So tonight, instead of worrying about the PHA, I will instead go outside (I hope the clouds clear over Toronto tonight) and look for the second notable event happening:
When the sun goes down tonight, step outside and look east. Jupiter and the waxing full Moon are lined up less than 10o apart. It's a beautiful conjunction that will last all night long--don't miss it!
For me, taking a good long hard look at nature is the best grounding force I know.  Try it yourself and see if you, like me, can find the cosmic connection that is all around us and there for the taking at any second.

This radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 was obtained on Nov. 7, 2011, at 11:45 a.m. PST (2:45 p.m. EST/1945 UTC), when the space rock was at 3.6 lunar distances.


  1. I dropped by here from WWW's blog.After reading your post I will try to look at the conjunction tonight. Right now here (Ontario, Canada) it is overcast.

  2. I was out night cycling and geocaching last night (no reason, really) and was wondering what planet I was looking at! Not too far from the moon, it was. Wishing you a clear sky this evening!

  3. GFB: I hope you saw it/can see it. Toronto skies cleared up tonight...it is pretty amazing!

    Urban: I love it! I saw it first at around 5:30 p.m. and you can still see it at 11:30 p.m. :)

  4. I saw it last night, one of the more magnificent skies that I experience way out here on the edge of the Atlantic. Also the 3 sisters were really clear or maybe that was Orion's belt?


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