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Just a quick drop-in to share some exciting astro-news: Asteroid 2011 MD, a chunk of rock estimated to be 25 to 55 feet (8 to 18 m) across, is expected to pass less than 8,000 miles above Earth's surface around 1 p.m. EDT (17:00 UT) on Monday, June 27th. The actual event will be observable only from South Africa and parts of Antarctica, but the approach will be visible across Australia, New Zealand, southern and eastern Asia, and the western Pacific.

The asteroid was spotted on June 22nd by LINEAR, the Lincoln Near-Earth Research project. This is probably the biggest known asteroid to have whizzed past this close. Check it out:


Click the image to see the Astronomy Magazine article with many links.

The asteroid peaks brighter than magnitude 11.0 at the places where the closest approach is visible, and it's already about magnitude 12.5 — fairly easy to spot in an 8-inch telescope — by 14:30 UT, 2½ hours before closest approach. At that point it's visible from Southeast Asia, eastern China, and Japan, as well as Australia and points between.

The asteroid will be very hard to observe after its closest approach, since it's departing more or less toward the Sun. To observe the asteroid you will need a good telescope (the bigger the better), excellent charts and the know-how to use them, and ephemerides from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But just knowing it's out there is the cool-beans part!

Chris

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