Astronomy Essentials

Watch live as an asteroid safely passes Earth on February 22

Constellations with blue lines and red hashmarks indicating asteroid location.
View larger. | Location of asteroid 1999 VF22 on the night of February 21, 2022, just hours before its closest approach. Facing north with a 12″ or larger diameter telescope. Illustration by Eddie Irizarry/ Stellarium.

A cruise-ship-sized space rock called 1999 VF22 will safely pass Earth on February 22, 2022. It’ll be this particular space rock’s closest approach in more than 100 years. Closest approach will be at 2:54 a.m. EST (07:54 UTC) on February 22. The asteroid will pass us at a distance of 3.3 million miles (5.4 million km) or almost 14 times the Earth-moon distance. Despite this safe expanse, it will still be close enough for astronomers to study the asteroid using radar. The Virtual Telescope will also air its flyby live. And you can use a (large) backyard telescope to watch it slide past.

Asteroid 1999 VF22 will come slightly closer in 128 years, when it returns on February 23, 2150.

This isn’t a newly discovered asteroid. The Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona discovered it way back on November 10, 1999. The date of discovery is how asteroid 455176 got its designation of 1999 VF22.

The 2022 lunar calendars are still available. Order yours before they’re gone!

It’s one speedy space rock

Asteroid 1999 VF22 is traveling at 56,158 miles per hour (25.1 km/s) relative to Earth. Even though it will pass at a safe distance, it’s still classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid due to its predicted close passes by Earth.

From February 19 to 24, astronomers will point the 230-foot (70-meter) DSS-14 Goldstone Radar Antenna in California at the space rock. They plan to study this asteroid, which appears to complete one revolution every four hours.

What do we already know? We know that asteroid 1999 VF22 has an average size of 1,017 feet (310 meters) in diameter. Previous radar studies from the Arecibo Observatory revealed it to be a rounded space rock.

And we know that 1999 VF22 orbits the sun every 1 1/2 years. So it sometimes passes close not only to Earth, but also to Mars, Venus and Mercury.

See the asteroid for yourself

You can see the asteroid yourself with a 12-inch or larger diameter telescope. No telescope? No problem. You can also watch it live from the Virtual Telescope starting at 00:00 UTC on February 22.

White dots of various sizes with red hashmarks indicating asteroid location.
Have a computerized large telescope? Point it at one these reference stars on February 21, 2022, at 11:20 pm CST. You might be able to see the speeding asteroid passing in front of the stars. Even though it’s moving quickly through space, it should appear as a slow object from our perspective, due to its distance. Illustration by Eddie Irizarry/ Stellarium.

Bottom line: Asteroid 1999 VF22 will swing past Earth at a safe distance on February 22, 2022. You can watch the event live via Virtual Telescope.

February 18, 2022
Astronomy Essentials

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