Two celestial treats are in store for sky watchers this week if weather in the Puget Sound region cooperates, which is possible.
One of them is rare, visible only with a telescope and scheduled to make its appearance in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The other is relatively common, but still delightful, and can be seen with the naked eye in the evening every night this week.
The poetically named Asteroid 1998 OR2 will be the closest it gets to Earth (a safe 4 million miles away, about 16 times the distance from here to the moon) at 2:56 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on Wednesday, according to astronomy website EarthSky.
The mile-wide asteroid will be the biggest asteroid — that we know of — to pass by Earth this year. But despite its size, amateur astronomers will still need at least a small telescope to watch it soar past, looking like “a slow-moving ‘star,'” according to the site. If that’s you, the online astronomy site has charts and tips for observers to guide you.
If the skies are overcast, or there’s no telescope to be found, the Virtual Telescope Project in Rome will be live streaming the astronomical event.
This will be the most significant close approach of an asteroid until 2027, according to EarthSky. That’s when a huge asteroid called 1990 MU will pass within 12 lunar distances. Asteroid 1998 OR2, meanwhile, won’t visit again until 2079.
More accessible to avid skywatchers will be Venus, the planet sometimes nicknamed the Evening Star, which will be brighter this last week of April than it will be all year, EarthSky said.
“No matter where you live, look west after sunset for this bright planet,” EarthSky wrote in a post this week. “Venus is now nearly three times brighter than it was at its faintest some months ago. And that’s saying something, because Venus always ranks as the second-brightest heavenly body in the night sky (after the moon). It easily outshines all other planets and stars.”
Venus looks brightest to us when the planet is close to Earth and we are able to see more of its lighted “day” side.
“We know you might have seen Venus already,” EarthSky wrote. “But watch for it these next several days, at dusk and early evening. Venus will dazzle you!”