(NBC NEWS) The best way for most of us to watch asteroid 2012 DA14 come within 17,200 miles of Earth on Friday, and then recede harmlessly into the cosmos, is to fire up your Web browser and watch the show online. Pictures of the space rock, which is about half the length of a football field, are already starting to roll in.
NASA’s experts on near-Earth objects say that the time of closest approach will come at 2:25 p.m. ET, when the asteroid is zooming above the eastern Indian Ocean at a speed of almost 17,500 mph (7.8 kilometers per second). It’ll be too dim to see with the naked eye, but observers in Australia, Asia and Europe might be able to follow it with binoculars or small telescopes if they know exactly where to look. (If you want to try it, follow the directions at the bottom of this item.)
Then there are the professionals: Astronomers around the world are tracking 2012 DA14 with optical telescopes and radar dishes to learn more about the asteroid’s color, shape, spin and reflectivity. Such data could tell them what the object is made of, and perhaps provide insights into how similar objects could be diverted if they were on a threatening course. Which this one is not.