Image of Comet Lovejoy taken Saturday, January 10, by Dr. Bill Cooke. Image is a 3 minute exposure using the iTelescope T3 refractor. At the time of this image, the comet was some 45 million miles from Earth.
Discovered in August of 2014, Comet Lovejoy is currently sweeping north through the constellation Taurus, bright enough to offer good binocular views. Glowing softly with a greenish hue, Comet Lovejoy passed closest to planet Earth on January 7, while its perihelion (closest point to the Sun) will be on January 30. Classed as a long period comet, it should return again … in about 8,000 years.
NASA experts will hold a teleconference for news media at 4 p.m. EST today to discuss a meteor that streaked through the skies over Russia’s Urals region this morning.
Scientists have determined the Russia meteor is not related to asteroid 2012 DA14 that will pass safely pass Earth today at a distance of more than 17,000 miles. Early assessments of the Russia meteor indicate it was about one-third the size of 2012 DA14 and traveling in a different direction.
Panelists for the teleconference are:
— Bill Cooke, lead for the Meteoroid Environments Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. — Paul Chodas, research scientist in the Near Earth Object Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
The teleconference will be carried live online at:
This is the most common question we are asked, and the answer is “maybe.” It all depends on where you are located and what sort of equipment you have.
Closest approach will be around 19:25 UTC on February 15; this will be when the asteroid will be at its brightest. Even at this time, when 2012 DA14 is only about 17,000 miles above Earth’s surface, it will not be visible to the unaided eye due to its small size. Observers in Indonesia (which is favored to see close approach) will need binoculars to catch a glimpse of the asteroid as it moves rapidly through the sky.
The rest of us will need to use a telescope. In North America, 2012 DA14 will be no brighter than magnitude 11 when the Sun sets on the 15th. This is over 60 times fainter than the faintest star you can see with your eyes under perfect sky conditions. Also, it will still be moving quickly through the constellations — over 3 degrees (6 Moon diameters) per hour — and this speed, combined with its fading, will make it a challenging target, even for experienced amateurs. Algorithms in many of the software programs used to drive telescopes are not suited for fast movers like this one, and may point the telescope in the wrong locations (A test we conducted using a popular software package showed that it would point the telescope over a degree away from the actual position of DA14, well outside the one half degree field of view of most instruments). So seeing 2012 DA14 before it fades beyond the limit of most amateur telescopes will not be a simple task; it will require some thought and advanced planning. An invaluable tool in planning your observations is the JPL Horizons website (http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov), which can calculate the precise positions of 2012 DA14 for your location.
So can I see 2012 DA 14? The answer is yes — if you have access to a decent telescope, if you take the time to figure out where you need to look in advance, and if your sky is clear. A lot of work, but the reward is a glimpse of a house-size visitor from another part of the Solar System as it whizzes by our planet at a distance closer than many of the communications satellites we depend upon in our daily lives. A rare event, to be sure.
Those without telescope access may also get a glimpse. NASA will be streaming the latter part of the asteroid flyby on Ustream at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-msfc – if the skies are clear in Alabama and the MSFC-based telescope can view DA14, you can use the Internet to get a peek at 2012 DA14 (which will look like a fast moving star) from the comfort of your home.
The wide-field meteor camera at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center recorded these two simultaneous Quadrantid meteors on Jan. 4 at approximately 5 a.m. EST. Moving at 92,000 mph, the meteors flashed across the field of view in just over a second.
Early on the morning of Jan. 3, 2012, a beautiful meteor was seen traveling across the skies over Huntsville, Ala. Moving slowly at “only” 18.9 km/s — or 42,000 mph — the meteor was recorded at approximately 10:34:16 UTC in an allsky camera at the Marshall Space Flight Center. It started 88.5 km/55 miles up and was last detected at 79.8 km/50 miles up. The meteor had a mass of 22 grams and was about an inch in diameter — fairly big for a meteor — and its orbit went out to the asteroid belt.
The view below shows the meteor’s path captured by an allsky color camera, also located at the Marshall Center.
Image credits: NASA/MSFC/Meteoroid Environments Office/Bill Cooke and Danielle Moser
Hazy skies did little to dim the brightness of this Gemind meteor, which graced the skies over southern New Mexico on the night of Dec. 14 around 7:28 p.m. MST. Moving at 80,000 mph, the 3/4 inch meteor — a piece of the asteroid 3200 Phaethon — flared brighter than the planet Venus before burning up 47 miles above the U.S./Mexico border.
Image credit: Marshall Space Flight Center, Meteoroid Environments Office, Bill Cooke