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One for the Record Books

Asteroid 2012 DA14 whizzes by

If you feel a slight breeze around 1:30pm Friday, February 15, it could be the passing of Asteroid 2012 DA14. This 150-foot wide hunk of space rock is small as far as asteroids are concerned, but its closeness to Earth is unusual. Coming within 17,200 miles of Earth, this will be the closest recorded interstellar object to our planet and well within the moon’s orbit around Earth. While there is no chance of this asteroid striking the planet, it could crash into communications satellites.
    “We’ve never seen an object this big get so close to Earth,” said Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program, which tracks these sort of things. “This is a record-setting close approach.”
    This asteroid isn’t something you’ll be able to see with the unaided eye, and even with a telescope the best chance to spot it will be from a vantage in Asia. Your best bet to see this interloper is online. You can watch a live feed from the Slooh Space Camera from 6pm Friday until 4am Saturday morning. Check it out at http://events.slooh.com.
    Mercury climbs to its highest point in the western sky after sunset this Saturday. The innermost planet, Mercury is only 35,980,000 miles from the sun, and is most often obscured in its glare.
    At this, its greatest elongation, Mercury trails the sun by almost 20 degrees. But that doesn’t mean this fleet planet will be an easy target. If you have trouble spotting it, try scanning above the horizon with a pair of binoculars — and don’t wait, as it sets within 90 minutes of the sun.
    You shouldn’t have any trouble spotting Jupiter Sunday and Monday, as it is close to the moon both nights. Sunday’s first-quarter moon hovers almost overhead at sunset, with Jupiter the next-brightest light just a few degrees to its left. Monday the two have switched positions, with Jupiter just a few degrees to the right of the waxing moon.