NASA radars are monitoring 2005 YU55, an asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier, as it heads for a flyby of the Earth-Moon system later today. There is no danger to our planet. At closest approach on Tuesday, Nov. 8th, at 3:28 pm PST (23:28 UT), the 400m-wide space rock will be 324,600 kilometers away, about 85% the distance from Earth to the Moon. Professional astronomers are eagerly anticipating the flyby as the asteroid presents an exceptionally strong radar target. Powerful transmitters at Goldstone and Arecibo will ping the space rock as it passes by, revealing the asteroid's shape and texture in crisp detail, and pinpointing its orbit for future flyby calculations.
Asteroids this big have passed by Earth at similar distances many times before, but this is the first time astronomers have known about the flyby in advance. For instance, a similar encounter occurred in 1976 when 2010 XC15 split the distance between Earth and the Moon. Researchers didn't discover that space rock until 24 years after the flyby. The Nov. 8, 2011, passage of 2005 YU55 thus represents a rare opportunity for asteroid research.
Experienced amateur astronomers should be able to photograph 2005 YU55 as it zips through the constellations Aquila and Pegasus glowing like an 11th magnitude star. Even under the full moonlight of Nov. 8th, such a bright asteroid is within reach of mid-sized backyard telescopes. The timing of the flyby favors observers in western Europe and eastern parts of North America. Check Sky & Telescope for observing tips or go straight to JPL for the object's ephemeris.