Christmas Eve Asteroid To Pass By Earth December 24, But How Close?

A Christmas Eve asteroid is scheduled to hurl past the Earth on, well, Christmas Eve, and scientists say this one is special because of both its size and because of how close it's coming, Gizmodo is reporting.

The asteroid, lovingly named 2003 SD220, or alternately, Asteroid 163899, is pretty big as Near Earth Objects (NEO's) go -- it was once thought to be about.7 to 1.5 miles long, but later estimates suggest it's about 1.25 miles long (about half the length of New York's Central Park). Gizmodo writer George Dvorsky says the asteroid "kind of looks like a chicken finger or a pickle." Have a look and decide for yourself.

The Christmas Eve asteroid is also moving pretty quickly -- about 17.5 miles per second. So it's big, it's moving fast, and it's in Earth's neighborhood. Does that mean the asteroid poses any threat to the Earth? No, it does not. Scientists who study these things measure asteroids in Lunar Distance (LD) -- that is, the distance between the Earth and the Moon (about 234,000 miles). NASA considers an asteroid "close" if it comes within about 19.5 LD (that is, 19.5 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon). The Christmas Eve asteroid will be passing by at a safe 28 LD, or about 6.7 million miles, according to MSN. By comparison, back in January, according to this Inquisitr report, Asteroid 2004 BL86 came flew past the Earth at three LD.Despite the scientific evidence that the Christmas Eve asteroid is absolutely nothing to worry about, that hasn't stopped some alarmist headline writers from suggesting that the asteroid is so massive, and coming so close, that it might trigger earthquakes here on Earth. That's not going to happen, says EarthSky writer Eddie Irizarry.
"Don't believe any media suggesting that this space rock may cause earthquakes. Those assertions are misleading and incorrect. Even if 2003 SD220 were passing closer, it's doubtful earthquakes would result. In fact, there's no scientific evidence that an asteroid's flyby can cause any seismic activity, unless it collides with Earth, but – in this case – that clearly will not be the case."
NASA continually watches the skies for potentially dangerous asteroids, and the ones that are expected to pass "close" get the NEO (Near Earth Object) label. The space agency is currently monitoring several such asteroids, and none are expected to pose any threat to the planet for the next couple of decades.

However, as previously reported by the Inquisitr, by their best estimates, NASA has identified and begun tracking about one percent of all potentially deadly asteroids. And of the ones that have been identified, many are in chaotic orbits and can be nudged out of orbit quite easily, according to Bill Napier, professor of astronomy at the University of Buckinghamshire.

"The danger is in the future if asteroids like this are nudged off their orbit they can effectively become missiles. There are a lot of asteroids out there with the potential to be hazardous which have not been discovered."
If you want to see the Christmas Eve asteroid for yourself, you're going to need a pretty good, scientific telescope (most off-the-shelf backyard telescopes won't do) and a pretty good grasp of astronomy to know where to look.

The Christmas Eve asteroid will be back again in 2018 -- although it's not clear, as of this writing, whether it's returning for another Christmas Eve visit or at some other time that year -- and will return again periodically. It is not expected to start getting close enough to Earth to pose a serious threat for another 200 years.

Both the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Goldstone Antenna in California will be paying close attention to the Christmas Eve asteroid.

[Image via Shutterstock/sdecoret]