This week in astronomy: We're getting a solar eclipse and an asteroid is going to come *thisclose* to Earth
Well, this is the kind of thing that movies like 2012 make a big deal out of: On March 8th, our planet will experience a cosmic double-whammy of a total solar eclipse AND a 100-foot-wide asteroid flying by the Earth. Neat!
The total solar eclipse of March 2016 is the only total eclipse of the sun this year. (And now I can’t stop singing Total Eclipse of the Heart.) It’s our first eclipse since 2015, and this time the moon’s shadow will travel across the Earth late Tuesday (March 8) and early Wednesday (March 9). Scientists at Space explain that the odd timeline is due to the international dateline: The eclipse starts in Indonesia early Wednesday, but moves east across the Pacific, so it will still be Tuesday for the last third of the eclipse. It’s kind of like time travel, which is fitting.
If you’re planning on watching the eclipse in person, remember: Never, ever look directly at the sun, even through a telescope. Instead, you’ll need eclipse-viewing glasses or, for some DIY fun, build a pinhole projector. Otherwise, you might end up like Libby Hurley from The Adventures of Pete & Pete.
Meanwhile, the asteroid’s arrival is more uncertain: Researchers first thought we’d be getting the flyby on March 5, but they updated their prediction in February. While the asteroid should pass at a roomy distance of 3 million miles (5 million kilometers) from Earth, NASA officials said in a statement there’s a slight possibility it will come as close as 15,000 miles (24,000 km). As long as the asteroid doesn’t hit Earth, I’m happy. I don’t want a Deep Impact-type situation.
If you don’t live in the right geographical location to see the solar eclipse, you can watch the process live in a webcast hosted by the Slooh Community Observatory starting March 8 at 6 p.m. EST, and running until 9 p.m. EST.
NASA is also hosting a solar eclipse webcast starting Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST on NASA TV, and NASA scientists will also be answering questions on Google+, Facebook, and Instagram, with the hashtag #eclipse2016. You can also check out their tweets at @NASASunEarth. They will also answer questions on Reddit the day of the event at 1 p.m. EST, and will host a Facebook Q&A at 2 p.m. EST on March 7. All this goes to say, if you have questions about these cosmic happenings, NASA is more than willing to answer them.
There’s no plan for live coverage of the asteroid flyby, as NASA officials said that it would likely too dim to view easily from Earth. If it comes by at 15,000 miles, however, that might change!
One day, of course, we’ll all be living in space and these cosmic events will be day-to-day occurrences. I hope I can get a room on Captain Picard’s Enterprise.