A large asteroid passed Earth safely: see the picture here!

Here's a photo of the large asteroid – 2013 NK4 – that safely passed Earth on Monday, April 15, 2024. The Goldstone Radar in California obtained this image on April 13. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

to update! Image of asteroid 2013 NK4

NASA astronomers were able to obtain radar images of the large asteroid that safely passed Earth on Monday, April 15, 2024. They took an image of the asteroid – called 2013 NK4 – using the Goldstone radar in California on April 13. NASA said:

Narrow radar echoes likely demonstrate that 2013 NK4 is rotating very slowly, and that the shape is bifurcated.

These observations suggest that asteroid 2013 NK4 may be a binary contact. This means that it consists of two objects or asteroids that are attracted towards each other until they touch, resulting in this elongated shape. If the bilobed asteroid looks familiar to you, it's because we've seen space rocks like this before. For example, there 4769 CastaliaIt was discovered in 1989. It is larger at 1.4 km (0.87 mi) in diameter and is also classified as a potentially dangerous asteroid. Another example is Arrokoth, which was visited by the New Horizons mission. Arrokoth looks a bit like a snowman and is falling somewhere Kuiper belt.

A large asteroid larger than Apophis

asteroid 2013NK4 It is about 2,000 feet (610 meters) in diameter. This makes it twice as large as Apophis, the so-called doomsday asteroid that will pass near Earth's satellites in 2029. But 2013 NK4 passed us at a much greater distance. It was more than 8 times the distance of the Moon at our closest location. What's so amazing about that? People using telescopes will be able to watch it fly close to Earth!

The closest approach of asteroid 2013 NK4 occurred on Monday 15 April 2024, at 14:51 UTC. However, due to its position in the sky, it will be easier to see through a telescope on the nights of April 16 and 17. See search charts below.

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Large Asteroid: Elliptical and circular lines of different colors indicate the orbits of the planets and the asteroid.
Big asteroid 2013NK4 (shown in white) has an elliptical orbit that passes through the orbit of Mars (red) and between the orbits of Venus (pink) and Mercury (purple). It revolves around the sun every 378 days. It safely passed Earth (blue) on Monday, April 15, 2024. Image via NASA.

Asteroid orbit

Since the asteroid occasionally passes close to Earth and is a fairly large space rock, 2013 NK4 has a scary designation: A potentially dangerous asteroid. However, we have known about asteroid 2013 NK4 since 2013 (hence naming the year after it), and it has a well-defined orbit. There was no danger to the ground while it was flying.

2013 NK4 orbits the Sun every 378 days. But its orbit is slightly more elliptical than ours. Its orbit extends beyond Mars and then dips between the orbits of Venus and Mercury. The asteroid passed by our planet at a speed of 36,909 miles per hour (59,400 kilometers per hour), or 10.2 miles per second (16.5 kilometers per second), relative to Earth.

Use the telescope to see the large asteroid

The use of “GoTo” or computerized telescopes makes observing the asteroid easier than ever before. You will be able to see the asteroid in the eyepiece of a telescope or monitor as a slowly moving point of light in front of the background stars.

A star chart showing the location of 2013 NK4 on April 16, 2024.
Here's a wide view of the sky on Tuesday, April 16, 2024 at 10:45 PM CDT. Visit Stellarium To get an accurate view of these constellations on April 16 from your location on Earth. Illustration via Eddie Irizarry / Stellarium.
A star chart showing the location of 2013 NK4 on April 16, 2024.
Closer look. Observers using a computerized telescope or Go-To telescope can point their instruments toward one of these reference stars around 10:45 PM CDT on April 16 to try to spot asteroid 2013 NK4. The asteroid is supposed to appear in the form of a “slow-moving star” passing in front of the fixed stars in the sky. Illustration via Eddie Irizarry / Stellarium.
A star chart showing the location of 2013 NK4 on April 17, 2024.
Here's a wide view of the sky on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 at 10 PM CST. Visit Stellarium To get an accurate view of these constellations on April 17 from your location on Earth. Illustration via Eddie Irizarry / Stellarium.
A star chart showing the location of 2013 NK4 on April 17, 2024.
Closer look. Observers using a computerized telescope or Go-To telescope can point their instruments toward one of these reference stars around 10 p.m. CST on April 17 to try to spot asteroid 2013 NK4. The asteroid is supposed to appear in the form of a “slow-moving star” passing in front of the fixed stars in the sky. Illustration via Eddie Irizarry / Stellarium.

NASA will study NK4

According to NASA and JPL, astronomers will image the space rock using a 230-foot (70-meter) telescope. DSS-14 Goldstone radar antenna In California from April 13 to 19. (See image above from April 13.) Also, on April 14, observations of this object are scheduled from Canberra, Australia, using a 34-meter (112-foot) NASA DSS-35 dish antenna.

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Scientists expect to obtain highly detailed delay Doppler images, which should show the shape of the asteroid and perhaps allow them to better refine the size of the space rock.


A huge asteroid passes by Earth! EarthSky's Deborah Baird has created a 1-minute video summary for you.

Bottom line: A large asteroid — 2013 NK4, which spans about 2,000 feet across — safely passed Earth on April 15, 2024. It will be visible with small telescopes on April 16 and 17. And check out the image from Goldstone Radar in California from April 13. It shows a body with two lobes.

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