Unexpected Asteroid Passing Really Close By Earth
(Science Photo Library – ANDRZEJ WOJCICKI via Getty Images)

A bus-sized asteroid will make an unexpected and extremely close pass by Earth on Thursday, July 7.

According to calculations by NASA, the asteroid, 2022 NF, will come within 56,000 miles (90,000km) of the Earth at its closest approach, approximately 23% of the average distance between the Earth and the Moon. Referred to by The Weather Channel as a “master of hide-and-seek,” 2022 NF was hitherto unknown until July 4, when it was discovered using data from the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS), a series of cameras and telescopes based in Hawaii and specializing in the detection and tracking of near-Earth objects (NEOs). Researchers analyzed that data to calculate the asteroid’s trajectory and approximate size, estimating that the object is between 18-41 feet (5.5-12.5m) long.

The asteroid does not fit NASA’s criteria for “potentially hazardous asteroid,” and the object is small enough that it would almost certainly burn up in the atmosphere if it entered Earth’s gravity well. “Potentially hazardous asteroids” typically must measure at least 460 feet (140m) long and pass within 4.6 million miles (7.5 million km) of the Earth at some point in its orbit. NASA and its international colleagues track thousands of NEOs, although only a handful of the larger ones are considered potentially dangerous if their trajectories change.

According to NASA, “Only once every few million years, an object large enough to threaten Earth’s civilization comes along.”

In November of 2021, NASA launched a spacecraft called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which is expected to collide with the 525-foot-long Dimorphous Asteroid in Autumn of 2022. The impact should leave the asteroid intact, but may alter the course of its orbit, and the mission is meant to determine how effective future asteroid deflection efforts may be, should the need arise.

According to NASA’s small body database, 2022 NF will orbit the Sun once every 6 years.

The Virtual Telescope Project is live-streaming 2022 NF’s flyby of Earth throughout the day as a belated celebration of “Asteroid Day,” which took place a little over a week ago on June 30, and is providing updates on its location in the sky throughout the day.

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