Over the years, asteroids have gotten bad rap, probably because of that terrible Michael Bay movie. The truth is, asteroids are just hunks of rock hurling through space that aren't actively seeking to destroy the human race. Later this month, one such non-apocalyptic asteroid will get close enough to Earth for our viewing pleasure. Even though it won't do any damage, this is a damn big slice of space garbage.
Another freakishly big asteroid. Image: NASA/JPL
On April 20, an asteroid known as 2014 JO25 will whizz by our Pale Blue Dot from a comfortable distance — it will be roughly 1.8 million km away from us at closest approach. What's really remarkable is how enormous this thing is; according to NASA, the asteroid is about 650m in length. That's about the same size as the world's longest slip-n-slide, or like, a billion burritos — the latter is an estimate.
"Although there is no possibility for the asteroid to collide with our planet, this will be a very close approach for an asteroid of this size," NASA said in a statement. The agency added that it isn't uncommon for smaller asteroids fly by Earth at the same distance that 2014 JO25 will, but its size is noteworthy. "This upcoming close approach is the closest by any known asteroid of this size, or larger, since asteroid Toutatis, a 3.1-mile (five-kilometer) asteroid, which approached within about four lunar distances in September 2004."
While this particular asteroid will be very reflective, it will be tough to see it with the naked eye — a good telescope would be best. If you're in a smog den or trapped in a room with no windows, you can watch the asteroid fly by on The Virtual Telescope. For the hard core nerds, Slooh will be doing a live show following the asteroid's close approach, starting at 9:00AM AEST April 20. A spokesperson from Slooh told Gizmodo they have aptly nicknamed the asteroid "The Rock".
It isn't every day you get to see some space garbage zoom past Earth. That's the majesty of the final frontier: In space, even garbage looks spectacular.