Barack Obama is not the only visitor this Republic Day. Meet BL86, the asteroid.

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It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s an asteroid!

History will be witnessed in more ways than one on January 26, 2015. While Obama will be only the sixth US president to visit India in the past 56 years, the extraterrestrial object codenamed 2004 BL86 will be the closest any known space rock this large approaches Earth (until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past in 2027), according to Don Yeomans, the retiring manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office, California.

But how close?

Estimated to be about a third of a mile (0.5 kilometer) in size, and traveling at a speed of 56,420 kmph, the asteroid will zip by Earth on January 26, visible between 11.07 pm EST and 11.52 pm EST (that is, 9.30 am to 10.30 am IST, next day). Around that time, the asteroid is expected to be 745,000 miles (or 1.2 million kilometers) from our planet. That’s roughly three times the distance to the moon.

A narrow encounter by astronomical terms, yet, far enough to feel safe.

So thank your stars and pull out your telescope. NASA says that a pair of binoculars or an amateur telescope will be good enough to bring this celestial beauty into view.

Get your viewing tips here.

Don’t have a telescope at home? Enjoy the fly-by here. 

Past encounters with asteroid of similar size:

Name of the asteroid Size in meters (approximate) Nominal geocentric distance Date of closest approach
1998 KJ9 500 233,000 December 31, 1914
2004 XP14 500 432,400 July 3, 2006
1998 WT24 400 1,867,800 December 16, 2001