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Asteroid 2005 YU55 will buzz the Earth next week

Asteroid 2005 YU55 is as big as an aircraft carrier and the biggest space rock to come this close to Earth in 25 years. Scientists say asteroid 2005 YU55 will fly by Tuesday evening.

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This radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 was taken in April by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

NASA/Cornell/Arecibo

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A huge asteroid about the size of an aircraft carrier will zoom past our planet next week, flying between the Earth and the orbit of the moon when it flies by on Tuesday (Nov. 8).

The space rock, called asteroid 2005 YU55, poses no threat to the Earth but will be observed by excited astronomers around the world. It's about 1,300 feet (400 meters) wide, round and blacker than coal, NASA scientists said.

At its closest point, asteroid 2005 YU55 will pass Earth at a range of about 201,700 miles (324,600 kilometers on Tuesday at 6:28 p.m. EST (2328 GMT). The average distance between the moon and Earth is about 238,854 miles (384,399 km).

IN PICTURES: Asteroids

"This is particularly exiting since it is the first time since 1976 that an object of this size has passed this closely to the Earth," said Scott Fisher, a program director of the NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences, in an NSF webchat Thursday (Nov. 3) organized by ScienceNow. "It gives us a great (and rare!) chance to study a near-Earth object like this. In fact, we have several telescopes set up and ready to observe this event already."

Those telescopes include the giant Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico and several NASA Deep Space Network instruments, to name a few.

Astronomers plan to use the telescopes to snap radar images of asteroid 2005 YU55 similar to one taken by the Arecibo observatory in April 2010, when the space rock flew within 1.5 million miles (2.4 million km) of Earth. Tuesday's flyby, however, is much closer and should allow astronomers to snap more detailed images of the asteroid. [Photos: Asteroids in Deep Space]

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