Congratulations to amateur astronomer Dave Herald of Murrumbateman, Australia! He snapped one of the first images of incoming asteroid 2012 DA14 this morning as it passed through the halo of the rich globular cluster 47 Tucanae. At the time, the 150-foot-long rock was 744,000 miles from Earth and a very dim magnitude 18.4.
With Friday’s visit by 2012 DA14 swiftly approaching, what better time than now to get an asteroid widget? NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has created a widget that helps you keep track of asteroids that are making close approaches to our planet. Called Asteroid Watch, it tracks both near-Earth asteroids and comets.
Asteroid Watch displays the date of closest approach, approximate object diameter and distance from Earth for each flyby. The object’s name is displayed by hovering your cursor over its encounter date. Clicking on the encounter date will display a Web page with details about that object.
The Widget displays the next five Earth approaches to within 4.6 million miles (19.5 times the distance to the moon). An object larger than about 150 meters (492 feet) that can approach the Earth to within this distance is termed a potentially hazardous object or PHA.
The Mac version runs on OS 10.4 or later, while the PC / Mac version works on computers with Yahoo! Widgets installed. Go HERE to get either version along with setup instructions. Once downloaded and opened, look for it the Mac version on your dashboard. The hovering feature works well and the asteroids are current. There’s even a little arrow link on the bottom you can click on for the full list of upcoming close approaches.
I’ve not been able to test out the PC version, but have learned that it may not update like the Mac version does. Check it out and let us know what you find. If it doesn’t work as expected, not to worry. Just visit and bookmark NASA’s Near-Earth Close Approaches table, which shows a complete listing of recent and upcoming close asteroid flybys. There 16 of them coming up in the next two weeks. Do we live in a cosmic shooting gallery or what?