Feb 052013

Image sequence showing changing brightness of asteroid 2008 TC3, as recorded at the Clay Center Observatory in October 2008. Click on the image to see a time-lapse video.

February 5, 2013 — When a small asteroid brushes within 18,000 miles of Earth in 10 days, the news media and public will be able to watch the celestial near-miss as it happens.

On Friday, February 15th, weather permitting, real-time high-definition video from the Clay Center Observatory will be available from 6 p.m. EST until 4 a.m. the next morning (3 p.m. to 1 a.m. PST). The video feed can be freely accessed worldwide via the observatory’s Ustream channel.

A countdown clock shows how much time remains until the tracking begins.

Note to broadcasters: A special channel, offering higher-quality, broadcast-ready video, is available. Contact the observatory’s staff (details below) for details on how to access this feed.

The Clay Center Observatory’s “space camera” has a 25-inch main mirror — making it one of the largest publicly accessible telescopes in the United States. Since it is on the East Coast, at the Dexter and Southfield Schools in Brookline, Massachusetts, this will be among the first large telescopes in the country to provide imagery of the asteroid as night falls on February 15th.

The asteroid, known as 2012 DA14, was discovered last year and is roughly the size of a school gymnasium (130 to 160 feet, or 40 to 50 meters, across). It circles the Sun in an orbit almost identical to Earth’s but tipped by about 12°. When nearest, at 2:24 p.m. EST on the 15th, it will be just 17,200 miles (27,700 km) from Earth’s surface, only about 1/13th of the distance to the Moon and closer to us than most weather and communications satellites. (See NASA’s Near-Earth Object website for more details about the asteroid’s orbit and characteristics.)

During its flyby, 2012 DA14 will pass rapidly from south to north among the stars and will be situated between the Big and Little Dippers once it gets dark on the East Coast. By then the asteroid will be too faint to see in most backyard telescopes. However, it should be easy to track with the advanced optics and instrumentation at the Clay Center Observatory.

Readying the Clay Center's 25-inch telescope

Nicholas Weber, a student at Dexter School in Brookline, Massachusetts, installs a digital camera on the Clay Center’s main telescope. Looking on is Ron Dantowitz, director of the observatory.

Notably, the real-time telescopic views will be provided to the world by a team of high-school students from Dexter and Southfield Schools. Led by sophomore Nicholas Weber, the team has had extensive experience tracking and imaging asteroids. They will measure changes in 2012 DA14’s brightness to provide a visual counterpart to radar observations being conducted by NASA scientists in California.

For more information, please contact:

Ronald Dantowitz, Director, Clay Center Observatory (dantowitz@dexter.org; 617-959-9945)

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