An asteroid narrowly passed by Earth Monday night, although what space enthusiasts consider “narrowly” and you consider “narrowly” may vary considerably.
As NBC News reports, the asteroid, lovingly named “Asteroid 2013 TX68” by people who get paid money to come up with these names, made its closest approach to Earth Monday night at about 7 p.m. Eastern Time. So while you were at home watching the news or cooking supper, Space Death was whizzing over your head at tens of thousands of miles per hour, barely sparing the planet from doom.
Or maybe not. NASA isn’t able to say exactly how close the asteroid came to Earth, but they know we Earthlings were never in any real danger. The fact that you’re reading this informative article means that nothing happened.
— dwnews (@dwnews) March 8, 2016
Still, Asteroid 2013 TX68 came close. Just how close? Well, the distance between the Earth and the Moon is about 224,000 miles, give or take. NASA considers that distance one Lunar Distance, or LD. As far as NASA is concerned, an asteroid is “close” if it’s within about 20 LD — that is, 20 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
So how close did Asteroid 2013 TX68 come? Estimates vary, since the space rock has only been observed a few times, and it’s difficult to calculate its orbit. But by NASA’s best guess, the asteroid came as close as 15,000 miles (about 0.07 LD) from the Earth. Or it could have passed as much as three million miles (about 13.4 LD). Any way you slice it, it was close.
Nevertheless, NASA spokesman Paul Chodas assured Earthlings back in February that the asteroid posed no danger.
“There is no concern whatsoever regarding this asteroid — unless you were interested in seeing it with a telescope.”
By the way, if you’re interested in seeing the asteroid with your telescope, Tuesday night would be a good time to try to catch it – if you live out west (including Hawaii), if you have clear skies, if you have a good telescope, and if you know where to look. And the asteroid is moving away from us, so act quickly.
Or you could just wait a few months. Asteroid 2013 TX68 is expected to narrowly miss Earth again on September 28, 2017, and again in 2046 and 2097.
The asteroid is one of the thousands of Near Earth Objects NASA is currently tracking. As of this writing, none of the known NEO’s are known to pose a risk of an impact with the Earth. However, it’s not the asteroids NASA knows about that you have to worry about. It’s the ones they don’t know about.
Don’t fear the asteroid whizzing by Earth today. Fear the millions of asteroids nobody can see https://t.co/oH3VANQvii
— WIRED (@WIRED) March 8, 2016
As Wired reports, NASA has been able to identify and track some Near Earth Objects. In fact, they’ve compiled a list, which you can see here, of objects that may or may not pose a risk of impact with the Earth.
But hundreds of millions of asteroids big and small are out there, and many of them come and go through our corner of the solar system with scant notice.
That is, until they hit.
In February 2013, for example, a meteor (an asteroid is called a meteor when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere) exploded in the skies above Chelyabinsk, Russia, damaging thousands of buildings and injuring over 1,500 people. And no one saw it coming. In fact, the Chelyabinsk meteor was the second Near Earth Object to pass by the Earth that day previously undetected.
And by the way, Asteroid 2013 TX68 is estimated to be twice the size of the asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk.
[Image via Shutterstock/sdecoret]