Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Fly-By: Massive 2,000-Foot Space Rock Approaching Earth

In just a few days, a monstrously large, 2,000-foot (650-meter) asteroid will hurtle past the Earth in a fly-by event that, at present, poses no real threat to the planet. And once it passes, the asteroid will not come anywhere near as close to the Earth again for another 400 years. But it isn’t the only potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) in the solar system.

The massive space rock, designated 2014 JO25, is set to make its closest pass to Earth in four centuries on April 19, Phys.org reports. It will move to within 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers) of Earth, a distance which is less than five lunar distances (LDs), or five times the distance from the Earth to the Moon, during its fly-by.

The asteroid, as Phys.org points out, will be the largest object to pass by the Earth since 2004, when asteroid Toutatis, a gigantic PHA measuring 3.1 miles (five kilometers) across, passed within four LDs of our planet.

In sensationalist nomenclature, asteroids Toutatis and 2014 JO25 would be considered “killer asteroids” due to their size and potential destructive force were they to ever, for whatever reason, become actual impactors. An asteroid the size of Toutatis could produce catastrophic effects roughly half that caused by the Chicxulub meteor, which is believed to have contributed to the demise of the dinosaurs some 66 million years ago. As a recent report by InsuranceQuotes revealed (per the Inquisitr), a scenario where an asteroid nearly the size of 2014 JO25 (one measuring 1,805 feet — 550 meters — in diameter) would see a death toll of over 9.5 million people should it impact in the city of Chicago. (One a fifth of that size hitting New York City would kill upward of 2.5 million.)

The U.S. Congress, according to physicist Richard Blandford, refer to space objects 140 meters (460 feet) and less as “city killers.”

asteroid impacting a city
If an asteroid slightly smaller than 2014 JO25 hit Chicago, it is estimated that at least 9.5 million people would perish. [Image by puchan/Shutterstock]

It should be pointed out that hundreds, if not thousands (counting the still undetected objects), fly past the Earth each year, some making near-miss passes, like the just-discovered 12-foot asteroid 2017 GM that buzzed by — and through the shell of satellites that ring our planet — at the beginning of the month.

The next PHA of great size to make a fly-by near Earth will not occur until 2027. At that time, asteroid 1999 AN10, a half mile (800-meter) wide object will pass by at just one lunar distance — at 236,000 miles (380,000 kilometers).

According to Space.com, NASA first learned of 2014 JO25’s existence when astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona detected the object with their telescopes. The Catalina Sky Survey is sponsored by NASA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observation Program, a survey that searches the solar system for potentially Earth-threatening asteroids.

NASA’s NEOWISE (Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) mission notes that 2014 JO25 will be visible in the night sky for one to two days. An extremely bright object, it shines with a luminosity twice that of the Moon, thereby providing both amateur and professional astronomers with an easily spotted viewing target. As yet, scientists are uncertain of the composition of the asteroid.

The asteroid has already swung around the Sun and is headed toward the outer solar system. It will soar past Jupiter before it begins its journey back toward the inner planets.

Asteroid 2014 JO25 is but one of 1,798 PHAs detected to date, according to scientists tracking unusual objects in our solar system at the Minor Planet Center at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

asteroid field with Sun in background
Although there are over 15,000 objects being tracked now, there are tens of thousands of asteroids and comets that have yet to be detected. [Image by Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock]

The total number of near-Earth objects (NEOs) detected by various astronomers and space agencies around the world and over the years passed the 15,000 threshold in October last year. But that number is growing rapidly, according to Ettore Perozzi, manager of the European Space Agency’s NEO Coordination Centre near Rome, Italy.

“The rate of discovery has been high in the past few years, and teams worldwide have been discovering on average 30 new ones per week,” he said, according to Phys.org.

Perozzi noted at the time that it is believed that about 90 percent of NEOs that measure 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) or more in diameter have been found, but only about 10 of objects 100 meters (328 feet) or larger have been detected. NEOs the size of asteroid 2014 JO25 are somewhat in the median range between the two sizes.

[Featured Image by Jurik Peter/Shutterstock]