Technology

Nasa confirms ‘potentially hazardous’ asteroid will pass Earth safely tomorrow

Nasa is tracking a ‘potentially hazardous’ asteroid that’s due to pass Earth safely by about three million miles tomorrow.

The ‘potentially hazardous’ part comes from the fact it measures about 3,250 feet in diameter, which makes it bigger than the Burj Khalifa. Combine that with a travelling speed of 34,000 miles per hour and you can see why the space agency has given it the label.

Nasa’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) says the asteroid (known as 163373 (2002 PZ39)) will reach it’s closest point to Earth on February 15, 2020, at 6.05am Eastern Time – which is 11.05am here in the UK.

‘Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are currently defined based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth,’ Nasa said in a statement.

If the asteroid did end up hitting us, it would wipe out millions and trigger a ‘nuclear winter’ type event that would be catastrophic.

Thankfully, three million miles is a long way off. Not in space terms, but it is for us – actually, to put it in context, it’s about 15 times the distance from the Earth to the moon.

Also, having an asteroid pass by Earth isn’t that special. CNEOS currently lists about 20 that are set to pass us by in the next month alone.

‘On a daily basis, about one hundred tons of interplanetary material drifts down to the Earth’s surface. Most of the smallest interplanetary particles that reach the Earth’s surface are the tiny dust particles that are released by comets as their ices vaporize in the solar neighborhood,’ CNEOS says.

‘The vast majority of the larger interplanetary material that reaches the Earth’s surface originates as the collision fragments of asteroids that have run into one another some eons ago.’

The agency does go into some detail about would would happen if one of these rocks did end up smashing into us.

‘With an average interval of about 10,000 years, rocky or iron asteroids larger than about 100 meters would be expected to reach the Earth’s surface and cause local disasters or produce the tidal waves that can inundate low lying coastal areas.’

‘On an average of every several hundred thousand years or so, asteroids larger than a kilometer could cause global disasters. In this case, the impact debris would spread throughout the Earth’s atmosphere so that plant life would suffer from acid rain, partial blocking of sunlight, and from the firestorms resulting from heated impact debris raining back down upon the Earth’s surface.

‘Since their orbital paths often cross that of the Earth, collisions with near-Earth objects have occurred in the past and we should remain alert to the possibility of future close Earth approaches. It seems prudent to mount efforts to discover and study these objects, to characterize their sizes, compositions and structures and to keep an eye upon their future trajectories.’

But none of that will happen tomorrow, so enjoy your weekend.