A bus-sized asteroid is passing safely by Earth today and you can watch for free (Image Credit: Space.com)
A space rock at least the size of a bus will safely whiz by our planet today, and you can watch the event on a free livestream.
The Virtual Telescope Project will broadcast the flyby of asteroid 2022 NF from Rome, Italy, where the project is situated. If weather conditions allow, you can watch the livestream starting at 4 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) in the window above or directly from the Virtual Telescope Project (opens in new tab).
At a nearest approach of 56,000 miles (90,000 kilometers), 2022 NF will come within about 23% of the distance to our moon. That’s close in celestial terms, but still a very safe distance for Earth.
The flyby event is the project’s tribute to 2022’s Asteroid Day, according to Virtual Telescope Project founder Gianluca Masi. Asteroid Day is an Asteroid Foundation annual promotion of space rocks and planetary defense research that takes place on June 30.
The space rock, first spotted (opens in new tab) in 2022, is at its longest dimension between 18 feet and 41 feet (5.5 meters and 12.5 meters). That’s at least bus-sized, although the asteroid could range as large as a shipping container.
That size means that, technically speaking, 2022 NF is not classified as a “potentially hazardous asteroid” (PHA) by the metrics (opens in new tab) used by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.
While the asteroid will come well within the required 4.6 million miles (7.5 million km) of Earth to qualify as a PHA, its small size is well under the generally accepted 460 feet (140 meters) that also forms this designation. The size, however, is an approximation as usually we can only assess asteroids by their brightness, a proxy for size.
As a note, “potentially hazardous” is not meant to be a formal assessment of the likelihood or danger of an asteroid hitting the Earth, and how hazard is determined is complicated (opens in new tab).
The asteroid circles the sun about every six years, according to JPL’s Small-Body Database, where you can look up any asteroid ever tracked by professional telescopes. You can also see 2022 NF on JPL’s list of upcoming close asteroid approaches.
NASA and a network of partner telescopes regularly monitor the sky for small bodies like 2022 NF and have found no imminent threats to worry about, although they keep searching and working on planetary defense technologies as a precaution.
If you’re looking for binoculars or a telescope to see the asteroid in the night sky, check out our guide for the best binocular deals and the best telescope deals now. If you need equipment to capture the moment, consider our guides for the best cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography to make sure you’re ready for the next asteroid sighting.