An asteroid roughly the size of the world’s tallest building — the Burj Khalifa — is set to fly past the Earth sometime next month. According to Space.com, the asteroid, unimpressively named 2002 AJ129, will be around 2.6 million miles (4.2 million kilometers) from our planet at its closest. This is more than 10 times the distance of the moon from Earth. The report also went on to allay fears of the possibility that the asteroid may pose a threat to our planet. Over the past week, several media outlets have addressed the 2002 AJ129 as a “potentially hazardous” asteroid that could “possibly” hit the earth and cause widespread destruction and loss of life. Space.com, however, has quoted NASA scientists to confirm that asteroid 2002 AJ129 poses no threat to the Earth at all.
While it is known that asteroid 2002 AJ129 will fly past the Earth on February 4, it will be simply too far away from the planet to pose any threat to it. In fact, NASA scientists have confirmed that the 2002 AJ129 is a well-known asteroid that was discovered more than 14 years ago. They have calculated its orbit, and as per current estimates, the asteroid has no chance of impacting the Earth in the next 100 years. In a statement issued by Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth-Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he was quoted saying the following:
“We have been tracking this asteroid for over 14 years and know its orbit very accurately. Our calculations indicate that asteroid 2002 AJ129 has no chance — zero — of colliding with Earth on Feb. 4 or anytime over the next 100 years.”
According to Space.com, there are several other asteroids that are the same size or larger that regularly fly past the planet without making headline news. In fact, two such rocks passed the Earth as recently as Thursday without any media attention. On Thursday, a car-sized asteroid named 2018 BD passed just 21,500 miles (34,600 km) from the Earth. Another asteroid, 2018 BX, roughly the size of a medium-sized bus flew past us a day later, on January 19, and was just 174,400 miles or 280,670 km away from the Earth. Even more surprising was the fact that both these asteroids were only discovered this year. While both these asteroids are significantly smaller in size compared to 2002 AJ129, it was their proximity that surprised everyone. Both these asteroids were close enough to have hit Earth-orbiting communications and GPS satellites. As recently as September 2017, a much larger asteroid around 2.7 miles wide (4.4 km) named Florence flew 4.4 million miles (7 million km) from the Earth.
One of the reasons for the hyped news reports about the 2002 AJ129 could be because NASA classifies all asteroids larger than 460 feet (140 meters) that fly closer than 4.65 million miles (7.48 million km) to Earth as a “potentially hazardous” object.