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Asteroid coming tonight! How to stalk it on the Internet

October 12, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • A computer scientist collects data from radio waves bouncing back to Earth from the asteroid as it hurtles past Earth at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Center at Fort Irwin.
A computer scientist collects data from radio waves bouncing back to Earth… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Asteroid alert!

On Friday night an asteroid the size of a small house will come whizzing by Earth. And it's coming pretty close.

NASA researchers say the asteroid called 2012 TC4 will come within a quarter of the distance from the Earth to the moon.

The good news: It is still far enough away that there is no chance of an impact. The even better news for amateur astronomers: The asteroid should be visible with nothing more than a small telescope, according to

If you're interested in keeping tabs on asteroids yourself, the Internet offers lots of opportunities for asteroid stalking.

You can start by following JPL's Near Earth Object Office's Twitter feed @AsteroidWatch. The office coordinates NASA's efforts to detect, track and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids and comets whose orbits take them in the vicinity of Earth, and they post regular updates on their Twitter page. 

JPL's Near Earth Object Office has also created an Asteroid Watch widget that tracks comets and asteroids that are coming close to Earth. The widget provides information like the date of closest approach, the size of the asteroid, and its distance from the Earth. also offers reliable information about near-Earth, and near-solar space events. You can subscribe to get email alerts from the site's founder Tony Phillips about cool things going on in the sky. For a fee of $6.95 a month, you can get phone alerts from Phillips, so you are sure not to miss anything.

If you hear of an interesting space event in the news, there's a good chance that will be streaming live images of it on the Internet through one of its telescopes placed around the world. The website usually provides audio commentary from noted astronomers to provide context. 

And if you can wait 10.5 years, you'll have great access to asteroid information. The nonprofit B612 Foundation headed by a pair of former astronauts and a Stanford professor is planning to launch a privately funded space telescope that will create a map showing the orbits of all the objects near Earth. Because orbits are fixed, this map should help scientists predict if an asteroid will hit Earth even 100 years in the future. 


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