An asteroid about the size of a house will pass perilously close to Earth on Sunday, but not close enough to threaten the planet or the thousands of satellites currently orbiting it, NASA is reporting.
The approximately 60-foot asteroid, lovingly named 2014RC, was discovered August 31 by astronomers studying the sky at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona, according to The Washington Post.
Based on NASA’s best estimates, the asteroid will pass within about 25,000 miles of Earth, which, on a cosmic scale, is ridiculously close. That’s about one tenth the distance between the Earth and the Moon — an asteroid is considered “close” if it passes even outside the orbit of the Moon!
Also, consider this: several geosynchronous satellites (that is, satellites that orbit the Earth in time with its rotation) are stationed at about 23,000 miles above, meaning that this asteroid will pass within a few thousand miles. Still, NASA isn’t concerned.
“While this celestial object does not appear to pose any threat to Earth or satellites, its close approach creates a unique opportunity for researchers to observe and learn more about asteroids.”
Astronomers expect the asteroid to make its closest approach to Earth on Sunday afternoon, at about 2:18 pm Eastern Time, according to The Washington Post. At that time, it will be over New Zealand. Because of its small size and its apparent dimness, astronomers don’t expect the asteroid to be visible to the naked eye, although visitors with small telescopes may be able to catch a glimpse. The asteroid will be over New Zealand at about 6:18 am Monday morning New Zealand time.
NASA estimates that there are currently “thousands” of asteroids that could potentially threaten the Earth.
“As of September 02, 2014, 11408 Near-Earth objects have been discovered. Some 864 of these NEOs are asteroids with a diameter of approximately 1 kilometer or larger. Also, 1497 of these NEOs have been classified as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs).”
NASA’s current strategy of dealing with potentially lethal asteroids is “watch and hope,” but they are planning to send spacecraft up there to study ways to deflect or destroy them, if the need arises.
In the meantime, the threat of asteroids hitting the Earth — and causing damage — remains very real. In February of last year, a meteor exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, creating a shock wave that damaged thousands of structures and injured some 1,500 people, according to this Inquisitr report.
2014RC, like all asteroids, orbits the Sun, meaning that after it passes the Earth, it will be back in our celestial neighborhood some time soon.