Close Flyby Of Asteroid 2014 KH39 June 3 / Camelopardalid Meteor Shower ‘radar Rich’

Diagram showing the orbit of 2014 KH39. Yellow shows the portion of its orbit above the plane of Earth’s orbit (grey disk); blue is below the plane. When farthest, the asteroid travels beyond Mars into the asteroid belt. It passes closest to Earth around 3 p.m. CDT June 3. Credit: IAU Minor Planet Center

Next Tuesday afternoon June 3, asteroid 2014 KH39 will silently zip by Earth at a distance of just 272,460 miles (438,480 km) only a little farther than the moon. To be exact, it will miss us by 1.14 lunar distances (LDs). Close as flybys go but not record-breaking. The hefty space rock will buzz across the constellation Cepheus near the Little Dipper at the time. Pity it will be too faint to spot in amateur telescopes, but astrophotographers might want to give it a whirl.

2014 KH39 was discovered on May 24 by the automated Mt. Lemmon Sky Survey. Further observations by the survey and additional telescopes like the Pan-STARRS 1 observatory in Hawaii nailed down its orbit as an Earth-approacher with an approximate size of 72 feet (22-m). That’s a tad larger than the 65-foot Chelyabinsk asteroid that exploded into thousands of small stony meteorites over Russia in Feb. 2013. Three large fragments weighing a total of 1,442 lbs. were also found at the bottom of Chebarkul Lake.

Cool infographic depicting asteroids that will make close approaches to Earth in the next 200 years. Vertical axis shows distance in thousands of km from the asteroid to Earth’s center. Click it to see a larger, easy-to-read version. Credit: Rianovosti

Since this asteroid is not on a collision course with Earth we have nothing to fear from the flyby. I only report it here to point out how common near-Earth asteroids are and how remarkable it is that we can spot them at all. While we’re a long ways from finding and tracking all potentially hazardous asteroids, dedicated sky surveys turn up dozens of close-approaches every year.

Take today for instance. 2014 KF22, estimated at 56 feet across (17-m) is making its closest approach to Earth at 2.67 LDs as I write this sentence. On June 8, 2014 HQ124 will pass 3.3 LDs away. That one’s BIG with a diameter estimated at more than 2,100 feet (650-m) and close enough to glow at magnitude +13.7. Amateur astronomers with good maps should be able to track it in 8-inch and larger scopes.

This all-sky radar map by the Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar (CMOR) shows a hot spot of meteor activity at the ‘Cams’ radiant near Polaris on May 24. The shower produced about 100 meteors per hour as seen by radar. Credit: Dr. Peter Brown /CMOR

While we’re on the topic of things buzzing through space, more results from the May 24 Camelopardalid meteor shower have been published. You’ll recall that rates of at least 100 per hour were predicted but most of us saw 1/10 that rate at best. Guess what? We really did get the higher number except they were about a magnitude too faint to see with the eye even from a dark sky site.

Video clip by John Chumack of bright Cams flashing over Dayton, Ohio on May 24, 2014

The Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar facility picked up plenty of Cams with ‘underdense’ echoes, according to Dr. Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario. Underdense means faint – most Cams were magnitude 6-7 — at and below the naked eye limit. Larger particles, which produce brighter meteors, had been forecast, but now we know that the shower’s parent comet, 209P/LINEAR, shed finer debris more like dust than pebbles.

We’ll have to wait until 2022 and 2045 for the Cams to return. Maybe by then Google Glass will be available in a radar version.

4 Responses

  1. Richard Keen

    Bob, that’s a really neat “infographic”. When I went to the site, it shows more graphics – I like the one about cats, and learned the Russian words for purr and meow. One never stops learning, eh?
    There must be a size limit for the asteroids on the graphic, since our friend 2012 KT42 isn’t shown. It was half the distance of Apophis when we both watched it two years ago tomorrow…
    On the NASA Horizons ephemeris, KT42 was a mere 17424 km from my house at 2012-May-29 07:02 UTC, and, as I recall, quite a bit smaller than the house.

  2. Philip Bennett

    With the tracking data and size of asteroid 2014 HQ124 obtained, is it possible to re-run the past several orbits of this asteroid back to approx. August 12, 1998. I believe it is very possible this asteroid entered and exited atmosphere back in 1998 over central Florida Gulf coast, tracking south to north on an upward incline and exited atmosphere approx. 45 degree above NW horizon. At the time I estimated the diameter of asteroid to be 1700-2700 feet. The asteroid I observed back in 1998 and 2014 HQ124 are both on a different orbital plane than the eight major planets. Bob, what I’m asking is can computer simulation software be used to trace where HQ124 was at in August 1998 in relation to the Earth.

    1. astrobob

      I’m not aware of any asteroid that entered and exited the atmosphere over Florida in 1998. Do you have a link to this? As far as plotting 2014 HQ124, you can download (or enter by hand) the asteroid’s orbital elements into a program like MegaStar, Guide, Starry Nights and even Stellarium to find out where it was in 1998. Its orbital period is just under one years, so it returns often but only occasionally does it happen to make a close approach to Earth.
      You can find the orbital elements here:

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