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Look Up! A Huge Asteroid Is Whizzing Past Earth This Week

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Artist's rendering of the view from another asteroid, Toutatis, as it approached Earth in 1996. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Grab your telescope and get ready to duck, because an enormous space rock will be zooming through the sky the night of April 19.

Okay, fine. You won’t actually need to duck. The path of asteroid 2014 JO25 will be a near miss in space terms only, arriving in the sky 1.1 million miles from where we stand. That’s about four and a half trips to the Moon.

While it may not be the most dramatic flyby, 2014 JO25’s appearance is worth celebrating. Discovered just three years ago by astronomers with NASA's NEO (Near Earth Object) Observations Program, the rock is still pretty new to science, and we’ve got a lot more to learn.

So far we know that 2014 JO25 is very fat—about 2000 feet in diameter—and very shiny, almost twice as reflective as our silvery Moon. It’ll come at us from the same direction as the Sun and should be visible with small optical telescopes on April 19 and possibly April 20.

Asteroids whoosh by us all the time. What makes this a special event is the rock’s size and how close—again, in astronomical terms—it’ll come. We won’t get this close to another asteroid this big until at least 2027.

[h/t NASA]

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Eclipses Belong to Families That Span Millennia
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If you’re lucky enough to see the solar eclipse when it passes over America on August 21, you’ll bear witness to a centuries-long legacy. That’s because total eclipses of the sun aren’t isolated incidents that occur at random. They belong to interconnected eclipse families that humans have been using to track the phenomena since long before the first telescope was invented.

In the latest installment of StarTalk on Mashable, Neil deGrasse Tyson chats with meteorologist Joe Rao about the science behind eclipse families. According to Rao, eclipses follow Saros cycles which repeat every 18 years, 11 days, 8 hours. Astronomers keep track of many different Saros cycles. The eclipse on August 21, for example, is a member of the family Solar Saros 145. Every 18 years a Saros 145 eclipse falls over a different third of the Earth. In 1999, the great American eclipse’s “cousin” appeared in the skies over Europe and south Asia, and 18 years before that another relative could be seen over modern Russia. The Solar Saros clan can be traced all the way back to 1639 and it will keep going until 3009.

Today, scientists have space-age technology that allows them to track the moment of totality down to a fraction of a second. But thousands of years ago, before such satellite-tracking equipment was invented, ancient Babylonians only knew what they could observe from Earth. Their eclipse calculations ended up serving them pretty well: They were able to predict the same 18-year cycle we know to be true today.

Saros 145 isn’t the only family of eclipses making its way around the Earth. There are enough solar eclipse cycles to make the event a fairly common occurrence. If you’re curious to see how many will happen in your lifetime, here’s where you can calculate the number.

[h/t Mashable]

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7 Maps of Fun Eclipse Viewing Locations
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Do you have your protective glasses and camera filter ready for the great American solar eclipse on August 21? Perfect. Now all you need to do is pick the ideal location for scoping out the event. Fortunately, the path of totality (the area from which the moon’s total coverage of the sun is visible) stretches from Oregon to South Carolina, and there are plenty of places in between where you can set up camp. We’ve tracked down maps of some of the most unique locations that will fall beneath the moon’s shadow on Monday.

1. WATCH FROM A NATIONAL PARK.

What better place to witness one of the most stunning events in nature than from a national park? Using data from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio, the National Park Service has published a map of sites that will provide the best views of the celestial show. Several locations, from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the East to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in the West, fall in the path of totality. Click any marker in the interactive map to see if that place is hosting viewing events or other eclipse-related activities on August 21.

2. WATCH FROM THE CLOUDS.

When viewed from Earth, a total eclipse lasts only a few minutes. One way to get the most out of the experience is to head into the sky. You don’t need to board an invitation-only flight to see the eclipse from a bird's-eye perspective. There are plenty of airports in the path of totality, and NASA has compiled them all into a helpful map. In addition to choosing your departure and arrival points carefully, you’ll need to get the timing right. According to The Points Guy, taking an eastbound flight from a Pacific Northwest airport around 9 a.m., or a Denver, Colorado area airport around 10 a.m. will put you in a golden position for eclipse chasing—that’s assuming you can book a last-minute flight.

3. WATCH FROM A WAFFLE HOUSE.

On August 21, many Waffle House patrons will be treated to a mind-blowing experience—and we’re not talking about the topped and smothered hashbrowns. During the eclipse’s final hours it will be visible from dozens of Waffle Houses in the southern U.S. To choose a restaurant for viewing, refer to this map of Waffle Houses in the path of totality, put together by University of Georgia assistant geography professor Jerry Shannon. (He also tried making an eclipse map of Tim Hortons locations, but sadly fans of the Canadian chain won’t be so lucky.)

4. WATCH WHILE EATING FRIED CHICKEN.

Want some chicken to go with your waffles? Eclipse gazers watching from the southern states should have no trouble doing that. Twitter user Taber Andrew Bain made this map of fast food chicken joints that intersect with the path of totality. Bojangles' represents a healthy portion of the spots with 86 locations in the strip, but Zaxby’s is the most abundant by far with 117.

5. WATCH WITH WILDLIFE.

One of the more bizarre side effects of a solar eclipse is the reaction animals have to the sudden darkness. As most creatures time their habits to the rising and setting of the sun, totality can prompt different species to wake up, prepare for sleep, or just go berserk. We recommend watching this bizarre behavior with something separating you from the animals. NASA published a handy map of zoos that fall in the eclipse zone where you can do just that.

6. WATCH WITH SASQUATCH.

It’s not every day a solar eclipse occurs in your backyard, and it’s definitely not every day that you get to watch it in the company of Bigfoot. This map from cartographer and data visualization guru Joshua Stevens plots reported Sasquatch sightings in relation to the trajectory of the solar eclipse. It’s too bad that a bona fide Bigfoot encounter is a lot less likely to happen than a total solar eclipse—and even if you do spot the hairy guy on the big day, it might be hard to convince others of The X-Files-worthy coincidence.

7. WATCH FROM A LIBRARY.

Map of libraries hosting eclipse viewing events.
STAR_Net's NASA@ My Library initiative, Space Science Institute, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, NASA, and Google.

Your local library isn’t just a great place to pick up free protective glasses leading up to the eclipse. It can also be a fun spot to witness the event itself. Libraries around the country are hosting viewing events on the day of, where visitors will be provided with the proper equipment and information about what they’re seeing. Check out NASA’s map of libraries organizing such programs to find one close to you.

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