Thursday, February 14, 2013

Near-Earth Asteroid 2012 DA14 visible in Singapore

UDPATE (15 Feb): Just created this asteroid video. For best experience, watch it in full-screen 1080p HD and turn up the volume! Then try the 3D mode with your 3D glasses. :)

There is a very close flyby of a near-Earth asteroid this coming Saturday early morning, 16 February 2013 (Singapore time). It will be visible in Singapore if the sky is clear enough.

The official name of this asteroid is 2012 DA14.

Watch this video for a good introduction about this asteroid flyby.

Main points:

(1) It will NOT hit Earth
(2) It will NOT hit any satellites
(3) Not visible with our eyes alone
(4) Visible with telescopes and binoculars if you know where and when to look

The following is an animation of the flyby. Notice Singapore is on the "correct" night time side of the Earth to view this asteroid as its closest and brightest approach.

*Weather permitting*, my friends and I will be bringing our telescopes and binoculars to Bishan - Ang Mo Kio Park to observe this asteroid flyby. We will be conduct an overnight free public stargazing session on Friday 15 Feb (tomorrow evening) and stay up at least until 3:30am on Sat 16 Feb to observe this asteroid at its brightest and closest approach. Feel free to drop by and take a look through our telescopes and binocular. Please read my tweets on Twitter for the latest and most updated information.

For the Friday evening public stargazing session, our location will be at open space outside McDonald's in the park. After midnight, we will be going to the opposite side of McDonald's near Grand Lawn I.

Image Credit: User-annotated map from Nparks 
There will another group of local amateur astronomers doing the same at East Coast Park. Follow this forum thread for more info:

How to observe this Asteroid in Singapore?

- You need an obstructed dark view of the sky above (near the constellation Hydra and Leo).

- This asteroid can only be seen through telescopes and binoculars. It will look like a small dot of light moving across a background of stars.

- At its fastest, this asteroid moves 1 arc degree across the sky (width of two Moons) in about 1 minute. So technically is not really that fast and gone in a flash. For experience amateur astronomers who had manually tracked much faster satellites manually, this is consider quite slow.

Watch the following animation. NOTE: Time in this video has been SPED UP to 50 times faster. So imagine it is 50 times slower than animated and you will have a good feel how fast it is moving across the sky in realtime.

- It is predicted to be as bright as magnitude +6.60 which is within the reach of most telescopes and binoculars. The smaller the magnitude number, the brighter the object, the higher the chances of seeing it.

- Telescopes with a wide field-of-view are recommended. This will allow the observer to spot the asteroid easier and continue to keep chasing it by keeping in the view. If such telescopes also have a big primary lens or mirror, that will be a bonus as more background stars can be potentially seen which makes the movement of the asteroid across the view even more aesthetically pleasing.

- Most handheld binoculars are by design wide-view optical devices. They are also a good choice for hunting this asteroid.

- The asteroid is moving from South to North, i.e. not following the normal path of stars across the sky. So tripod mounts with computerised tracking may not be very useful in tracking its path automatically. Manual alta-azimuth mount with smooth slow-motion adjustment is recommended for best visual experience.

- This is also a good astrophotographic opportunity. You may try to take a photo of this asteroid through a telescope via prime astrophotography - e.g. attaching the body of the DSLR camera into the back of a telescope. The phone-camera-through-telescope afocal method will not work as  the asteroid is too dim to be captured this way. Another method is long-exposure photography with just camera mounted on tripod alone - aim, zoom in and shoot directly at patch of sky where the asteroid will be.

How to find its predicted path at a particular observation spot?

(1) Use Google Earth to find the exact longitude and latitude information of your observing spot. You may also go there physically beforehand and get the info via your phone GPS software.

(2) Go to Heavens Above website.
- Register a free account.
- Key in this location information in your profile.
- Go back to the Heavens Above homepage.
- Click on the first link at the top of the webpage to generate a customised sky chart showing the asteroid flyby path at specific time.
- You can also click on specific parts of this chart for a zoomed in view. You may screen-capture and print them and bring along for the actual event.

To increase your chances of spotting the asteroid, you may find the following instructions useful:

(3) Go to JPL HORIZONS web application

- Click on "change" beside Target Body. Search for and change it to "2012 DA14".
- Change the Observer Location to the co-ordinates you found in Step (1)
- Change Time Span to Start = 2013-02-15 17:00, Stop = 2013-02-15 23:00 Time interval = 1 minute
- Click on the button "Generate Ephemeris"

Now you will see listing of the asteroid path minute by minute and its location in RA Dec celestial co-ordinates format. You may print it out and bring along to the observation site.

- Date time display at first column = Add 8 hours to convert to Singapore time.
- APmag column = the smaller this number, the brighter the asteroid will be.
- Take note of the associated R.A. and DEC numbers. They are like the x and y co-ordinates on a graph.

Most planetarium software will allow the user to key in these RA and DEC numbers and then display exactly there this spot is in the sky chart. This is the most important and useful feature for hunting this asteroid accurately.

(4) Bring a laptop to the observation spot. If you can get internet access there, you may view the Heavens Above generated chart, generate the JPL HORIZONS data live (step 3), watch the live event streamings and read the latest twitter updates.

Install these two free planetarium software in the laptop - Stellarium and TUBA. These software does not require an internet connection.

(5) With the generated JPL HORIZONS data, use the search RA DEC feature in Stellarium and locate the predicated location on the laptop screen. Then use the other features (e.g. flipping the view left/right or up/down) to match how the starfield should look like through your optical instrument.

Using Stellarium, press F3 (Search Window), go to Position tab and key in the RA DEC.
Using TUBA, click on the Navigation Dialog (globe icon), move the sliders on the RA DEC columns.

TUBA has some useful features not found in Stellarium:

- Black and white display
- Chart Printing
- User-friendly slider bar to display the dimmest star so you can match the sky condition where you are at closely. This will make asteroid hunting less confusing through the optical instrument.

(6) Using the above information, you can try to find checkpoint positions which are easier for your optical instrument to point at beforehand and "ambush" the asteroid!

Using this example from actual JPL HORIZONS data:

Venue: Bishan - Ang Mo Kio Park (103°50'47.0''E, 1°20'39.1''N)
Date: Saturday 16 Feb 2013
Time: 2:58 AM
Location of Asteroid: RA = 11 31 13.89   DEC = - 31 47 44.9
Apparent Brightness = +6.69

This asteroid location indicated by the center of the inner red ring is very near the magnitude +3.5 bright star ΞΎ Hydra in the constellation of Hydra.

So a few minutes before 2:58am at the park, I will point and place at this relatively easy-to-find star in Hydra at the centre of the field-of-view of my telescope. Then just keep looking through the telescope and hope to catching a dimmer moving (!) dot across the view at 2:58am.

From then on, manually track the asteroid and let others have a look at it.

Try to find a few more checkpoint locations along the asteroid flyby path. This is to play safe in case that exact spot of sky mentioned above is cloudy at 2:58am! (Touch wood!)

You may also watch the live streaming of this event via NASA on Ustream and SLOOH. This live streaming can be used to double check the asteroid's location at the observation spot.

While hunting for this asteroid, Saturn is a magnificent planet to observe too. So do take a look at it if you have access to a telescope.

Let's all pray for clear skies for this rare event!

Hope to see you guys at Bishan - Ang Mo Kio Park tomorrow!


UPDATE (17 Feb 2013): Check out the amazing reports and photos by Gavin and Jia Hao who caught the Asteroid at East Coast Park! -->


  1. Hi,

    May I know roughly what time you will be there at Bishan-AMK Park? Am thinking of coming by. Thanks!

    1. Hi. Most probably from about 9pm+ onwards. If the sky is exceptionally clear before that, then some of us may conduct stargazing session session earlier. Follow my twitter or my tweets at the right-hand column of this blog for the latest updates. Hope to see you there!

  2. Keep up the good work Gary. Clear sky to all!! chiayk

    1. Thanks Mr Chia! Many fingers crossed now till then. :)

  3. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for the step-by-step tips for locating 2012 DA14. Its very useful.


  4. Thanks! You are most welcomed my friend!

  5. At Tampines can see or not?

    1. If the sky above is not obstructed and clear enough, should be able to see it. At its peak, it is as high up as 80 degrees above the horizon. Good luck!

  6. Hi, just wondering if having a dslr with its normal zoom lens will be able to take any pics with long exposure? Thanks.

  7. Replies
    1. Hi Marcus and hungpoh,

      If the sky is clear enough, should be possible. No harm keep trying with different ISO/exposure ..etc. For example ISO 800 and above. Exposure for at least 3 seconds on a stable tripod pointing at the correct spot. The asteroid will a couple of hours to move past the best spot. Just keep shooting as much as possible and analyse the photos later. One way to confirm is to compare photos taken very close to each other, if you see a dot of light "moving" from one photo to another against the same background stars, then congrats!!

  8. Hi just half an hour ago, an orange "thing" appeared zooming past Singapore skies at quite a high speed. It keeps glowing and sometime lit off, and glow again!

    1. Can you remember and give more details like it zoomed from which direction to which direction and roughly how high above the horizon?

  9. I'll most likely be attending unless it starts raining.
    Hope there'll be >1 scope around!

    1. Oh you can be sure there will definitely be more than 1 telescope around if the sky is clear! :)

  10. I don't have a telescope, can i borrow 1? Great info btw. keep up the good work :)

  11. Are you guys there ?. Looks like ECP guys gave up...

  12. what time will you guys be setting up at bishan park? :)

  13. Hi Gary, you guys managed to see the aesteroid yesterday/this morning?

    1. Hi. We didn't manage to catch it as its flyby path was blocked by clouds. Was glad my friends at East Coast Park did and took some photos of it!

      At the Bishan Park event, we had a great time making new friends and sharing with them great views of Saturn, star clusters and colourful double stars at patches of clear sky during the flyby.

      It was also a great opportunity for them to learn about the pros and cons of the various telescopes deployed there and how dark and convenient an urban park can be. In short, it was an entertaining and relaxing social event for all of us there!