This is a busy time for students of the Solar System: we have a potentially bright new comet headed into the heart of the solar system, we have seen a very close fly-by of an asteroid, and just a couple of days ago, a good sized meteorite smacked into the Urals of Russia resulting in some extensive damage and injury to over 1000 people.
Comet C/2001 L4 PanSTARRS
Some are promising this to be a bright comet, as bright as the moon… well, let’s hold onto that prediction a little bit. It is possible, yes, but there are no guarantees. I remember a pretty sorry looking Comet Halley when I was a younger man. We’ll keep out eyes open and see what we see. The good news is that it will be visible from mid-northern latitudes low in the western sky at sunset. That’s favorable for the public that generally does not want to get out of their warm cozy beds at 2:00am to see a faint smear in the sky. If it turns out to be bright, then we are in for a treat. Timing: Generally mid-March from the 12th to the 25th or so. That’s difficult to predict, too. The name? Pan-STARRS is the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System based out of U. Hawaii. Their goal is to image a lot of the sky and to very faint limits in order to find potentially threatening rocks headed towards the Earth. More at their webpage: http://pan-starrs.ifa.hawaii.edu/public/home.html Speaking of potentially dangerous rocks in space…
Asteroid 2012 DA14
This little gem of a rock flew by the Earth only Friday, and it WAS close. It was at the range of some of our satellite networks orbiting the Earth. The size of this rock? About 50 meters in width, large enough to do some pretty significant damage. Want to see a great video of the fly-by? Check out this APOD page: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap130217.html
Russian Meteorite in Urals (Челябинск)
Also on Friday the folks in Челябинск (Chelyabinsk), Russia were not pleased when a good sized rock came into the atmosphere at over 30km/s. Yep – that is fast! Over a thousand people were injured by the event, and not by the impact. The majority of damage was from the shock wave in the air caused by this rapidly moving object. The blast of air can be so strong as to damage entire buildings. Videos of the event are all over the net now. Some good collections at: WSJ Blog. This event is a reminder (not so subtle at that) of the fact that we are pretty fragile in a very violent universe. Keep looking up!