Close encounter of an asteroid kind

·Claudine Zap

The bad news first: An asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier will be hurtling toward Earth -- and is expected to fly between the Earth and the moon on Tuesday. The good news: The space rock will not, repeat not, hit Earth. Even though NASA has classified asteroid 2005 YU55 as a "potentially hazardous object." Even though it will pass closer than all other large asteroids have done in the past 35 years. It will do just that: pass by.

But the 1,300-foot-wide object, which will be just 201,700 miles away from Earth, offers a rare scientific opportunity. "Asteroids have passed this close or even closer in the past, but astronomers have not had as much advance notice," noted Bing Quock, assistant director of the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences, in an email to Yahoo! News.

Quock added that the early alert, coupled with the asteroid's proximity to Earth, will allow NASA to map the surface of this particular asteroid "to quite a spectacular resolution that's usually available only by sending spacecraft up close to the object." The last time an asteroid flew this close to Earth was in 1976. The next time won't be until 2028.

To get a good read of the huge space rock, scientists at NASA will engage a 230-foot-long antenna out of the Deep Space Network in Goldstone, California. The giant Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico will also capture images of the asteroid, starting at 3:28 p.m. PT on November 8.

Fun fact for amateur astronomers: The asteroid is actually moving too fast for the Hubble Space Telescope, but, according to CNN, you could spot it with a telescope of at least 6 inches in diameter. Track the asteroid here.

Space fans are keeping tabs on "asteroid 2005 YU55" on the Web: Searches on the term rose to the stratosphere in just one day. Popular lookups also included "asteroid November 8 2011," "near earth asteroid 2011," and "asteroid near misses." For the record, there have been a few asteroids that have come close -- in planetary terms -- to Earth. A bus-sized asteroid narrowly missed the planet back in June.