On February 15, 2013, an asteroid will sweep safely past Earth, well inside the moon’s distance, even inside the distance of some high-orbiting satellites. Many have asked:
Can I see it?
And the answer is, yes, definitely, if you’re willing to look into a computer screen in order to watch the event. Asteroid 2012 DA14 will not be visible to the eye. Strong binoculars or telescopes will be able to pick it up, but – unless you’re an experienced observer situated at just the right place on Earth (Indonesia is favored for this flyby) – your best bet is to watch online. Here are links to online viewing of the February 15 asteroid flyby.
If you’re determined to see the flyby, and you’re in the right place on Earth (see maps below), you might try obtaining asteroid 2012 DA14 tracking data from the website HeavensAbove.
Closest approach will be around 19:25 UTC (1:25 CST in the U.S.) on February 15. The asteroid will be at its brightest then – only about 17,000 miles above Earth’s surface – but, even for those in the right location, it will not be visible to the unaided eye because it is so small (about half a football field long). Closest approach comes during daylight for North America. Clearly, we won’t see it then. It’ll be early nighttime in Europe and the Middle East, however, and at least one public viewing event that we know about is taking place in Israel. Indonesia is favored to see close approach, because it’ll be the middle of the night there, but even those observers will need binoculars or telescopes to see close-passing asteroid 2012 DA14.
If you’re a North American viewer with a telescope or strong binoculars, be sure to check out this article at skyandtelescope.com.
Bottom line: Asteroid 2012 DA14 – which will sweep safely and closely past Earth on February 15, 2013 – will not be visible to the eye. Telescopes and strong binoculars will be needed to pick it up. Plus you’ll need to be an experienced observer, used to tracking fast-moving objects in the night sky. There are many online viewing possibilities; links here.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.