Watch an asteroid fly-by this weekend

A space rock the size of a city block will make its closest pass by Earth while the Internet watches.


This weekend is a rare opportunity to see a space rock the size of a city block go for a joyride past the much bigger space rock we call Earth.

The snappily named asteroid 2002 AM31 will cruise by our planet this Sunday, coming within 13.7 lunar distances, or about 3.2 million miles.

If you consider yourself a bit of a NEO (near-Earth object) groupie, you can watch the whole spectacle online at the Web site of the Slooh space camera (really a network of robotic telescopes around the globe). Webcasts are scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. PT and will feature live commentary and feeds from telescopes in Arizona and the Canary Islands.

While the Minor Planet Center in Massachusetts has labeled 2002 AM31 a "potentially hazardous asteroid," there's no chance of it actually impacting Earth and ruining your Sunday asteroid-watching cookout.

Astronomers have undertaken a significant effort in recent years to locate and catalog NEOs, and it's estimated that 95 percent of the biggest asteroids have been located, but it's believed no more than 30 percent of the smaller rocks (which could still do significant damage if they hit our planet) have been identified.

The planned Sentinel telescope will help scientists catch up, but in the meantime, you may as well sit back and enjoy the show -- no, not that terrible Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis flick, the one on the Slooh site with a more feasible storyline.

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