An asteroid a third of a mile wide is set to narrowly pass by Earth next week.
The rock, code-named 2004 BL86, will pass by at about three times the distance of the moon. Though that is a safe distance, it’s a close encounter for an asteroid.
On January 26, the rock will fly past about 745,000 miles from Earth.
It will be the nearest pass-by of Earth by an asteroid of this size until one codenamed 1999 AN10 flies past on August 7, 2027.
The fly-past next week should be close enough to be spotted by amateur astronomers with small telescopes or strong binoculars.
Dr Don Yeomans, retiring head of the US space agency Nasa's Near-Earth Object Programme office at the jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, California, said: "Monday January 26 will be the closest asteroid 2004 BL86 will get to Earth for at least the next 200 years.
"And while it poses no threat to Earth for the foreseeable future, it's a relatively close approach by a relatively large asteroid, so it provides us a unique opportunity to observe and learn more."
Where to explore in the solar system
Where to explore in the solar system
1/10 Mars - Olympus Mons
Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in the Solar System. At 22km high Olympus Mons is nearly three times as high as Mt Everest
2/10 Mars - Mount Sharp
Mount Sharp is the current focus point of the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover. Sitting at the forefront of Martian research this location will hopefully unlock the secrets of Mars’s past.
3/10 Ida and Dactyl
Nestled deep within the asteroid belt is the asteroid 243 Ida. During a fly by of the Galileo space probe it was discovered that Ida had a companion. Orbiting around Ida was a tiny moon that was named Dactyl.
4/10 Jupiter - The Red Spot
Getting tired of leisurely cruises through the Caribbean? Why not float a dirigible through one of the oldest known storms in the Solar System. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is large enough to contain three Earths and has been present for over 300 years.
5/10 Moon - Sea of Tranquility
As the landing site of the first ever humans to set foot on the Moon who wouldn’t want to walk in the footsteps on Neil Armstrong on the Sea of Tranquility?
6/10 Europa - Underwater seas
Europa’s underwater seas are one of the strongest candidates for potential life outside Earth. Scientists are waiting the day we can probe their icy depths.
7/10 Titan - Methane Lakes
Saturn’s Moon Titan is home to a nice thick atmosphere. Similar to the Earth it supports a full weather cycle. Unlike the Earth, rather than using water, Titan’s cycle is based on methane, often found in gas cookers here on Earth.
8/10 Mimas, the Death Moon
What better location for a holiday snap. The large Herschel crater on Mimas gives this moon an appearance of a certain dark lords ultimate weapon. When viewed from the right angle it appears that the Death Star is in orbit around Saturn.
The thick clouds of Venus make it an extremely mysterious place. It also has some of the most extreme weather we can find. Runaway greenhouse gases have shrouded the planet in a thick layer of cloud, heating it to nearly 600°C. It is also home to sulphuric acid rain and crushing atmospheric pressure. Make sure you pack a sturdy umbrella!
10/10 Oceans of Earth
One of the most unexplored places in the Solar System is our own oceans. 70% of the Earth is covered in ocean and as of yet we have only explored around 10% of them. With so much water to explore who knows what we may find lurking in the depths.
As the astronaut flies past, it will be watched by Nasa’s Deep Space Network antennae in California, and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. They will harvest data from the asteroid and take pictures of it using radar.
"When we get our radar data back the day after the flyby, we will have the first detailed images,” Lance Banner, who is leading the Goldstone radar observations, said. "At present, we know almost nothing about the asteroid, so there are bound to be surprises."
The asteroid was found on January 30, 2004, by astronomers at the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research telescope in the US. Nasa watches asteroids and comets using telescopes on the land and in space, and has a programme that looks out for objects that could cause damage to Earth.Reuse content