Basic Space

Basic Space

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Snap Asteroid Eros and Help Measure the Size of the Solar System


Eros as seen on 14th February 2001 by the NEAR spacecraft. Credit: {link url=""}NASA{/link}

Fed up of simply reading about space and want to do some real science? Well, here's your chance: astronomers are asking anyone with a pair of binoculars or telescope to train them on a new object visible in the night sky.

The object is an asteroid called 433 Eros. At 20 miles wide it's one of the largest near-Earth asteroids, but it only really gets close to use once every 1.76 years because of it's highly elliptical orbit. Its about to get the closest to Earth that its been in over thirty years – but don't worry, at 16.6 million miles away it won't pose any threat.

In fact, it could prove useful. From now until this Friday, the Eros Parallax Project is asking anyone with the right equipment to snap photos of Eros at specific times depending on their location. If you're quick, you might be able to jump on board and help. There's more information about the project here.

Depending on where you are on Earth, you will see Eros in a slightly different place in the sky relative to the background stars. This phenomenon is known as parallax. You can see it if you hold a finger up at arms length, look at where it is relative to the background with one eye closed, then switch eyes and watch it shift in relation to whatever is behind it.

Astronomers will use all the data submitted to find the distance to Eros. They will then use this to get a better estimate of the size of the solar system.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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