If you got interested in the cosmos by the recent green comet that flew right by Earth or by something before then, it’s time to break back out the star-finding app of your choice and a pair of binoculars. That’s because a massive asteroid larger than the world’s tallest building (the Burj Khalifa) is hurtling by Earth tonight.
Well, they might have to be high-powered binoculars. The asteroid will be nearly 3 million miles away, which is about 12 times farther away than the moon is. So, while “close” compared to the rest of the space rocks hurtling through space, it’s still not all that close to us. The Daily Mail, reporting on the massive asteroid and its predicted path near Earth, said:
An asteroid larger than the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, is making its closest approach to Earth Wednesday evening – but it will pass by at a safe distance.
Asteroid 2005 YY128, estimated to be more than 4,000 feet wide, will soar within 2.8 million miles from our planet at 7:46 pm ET, which is the closest it will be to our planet in 400 years.
NASA has confirmed the flyby, noting that the space rock has been on the agency’s radar for the past 17 years.
However, despite coming close to Earth, the asteroid poses no danger. Paul Chodas, the director for the Center of Near Earth Object Studies at NASA, said as much in a response to USA TODAY, saying “Yes, the asteroid is probably fairly large, probably between 1,903 and 4,265 feet.” He then added “The asteroid poses absolutely no risk to humans.”
Chodas also said that, had the asteroid been on a path toward Earth, rather than just nearby, NASA would have had 15 years to figure out how to divert it. In his words “If this asteroid, for example, had been heading for an impact this week, we would have been able to predict (a collision) way back in 2005-6, and there would have been roughly 17 years in which to divert its path.”
USA TODAY noted that NASA has developed an experimental capability to divert asteroids if necessary, or at least has proven that it can do so with small asteroids. In its words:
The successful DART mission last year has proven NASA’s ability to be able to deflect near-Earth objects, or NEOs, years before a potential impact by using a spacecraft that intentionally rams into asteroids to change its velocity and orbit, just slightly.
In any case, the capability and its need are right now, purely experimental and theoretical. Small asteroids can be moved, as the DART mission showed, but there are currently no large asteroids NASA has found that are on a collision course with Earth. So, while interesting to imagine, there’s no need for NASA to try to deflect asteroids right now.
But, were there a need, at least NASA has something approaching a capability to knock one out of a trajectory toward Earth and that doesn’t involve loading a nuclear bomb on the asteroid like in “Armageddon”.
By: Will Tanner. Follow me on Twitter @Will_Tanner_1
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