A big asteroid is due to dart past Earth on Tuesday, coming at about half the distance between our planet and the moon. The space rock, dubbed 2010 WC9, is estimated to measure between 197 and 427 feet (60 to 130 meters), which makes it roughly as big as the Statue of Liberty, notes the Great Lakes Ledger.
According to EarthSky, Tuesday’s close encounter will be one of the closest approaches ever observed of an asteroid of this size.
Although 2010 WC9 is hurtling towards us at an incredible speed of 28,655 miles per hour (46,116 km/h), it’s unlikely that the asteroid will change its trajectory. This means that the close encounter on May 15 will be a safe one for our planet.
Aside from its impending visit, 2010 WC9 is particularly interesting because it has an unusual story behind it. Astronomers are calling it the “lost” asteroid because it vanished from their sight for nearly eight years.
2010 WC9 was first detected by the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona on November 30, 2010, shows the Center for Near-Earth Objects Study (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Astronomers managed to keep an eye on the asteroid only until December 1, when 2010 WC9 became too faint to observe. Since there wasn’t enough observational data to calculate its full orbit and predict its return, astronomers moved on to other space objects and the matter of 2010 WC9 was closed.
However, an asteroid discovered earlier this month — ZJ99C60, spotted on May 8 — turned out to be a blast from the past as astronomers realized it was actually 2010 WC9 coming back after almost eight years.
“The rock completed its orbit and is now hurtling back towards Earth eight years later,” JPL explained in a statement.
The asteroid’s closest approach to our planet will come at 6:05 p.m. EDT (22:05 UTC) on May 15, when 2010 WC9 will pass just 126,419 miles (203,451 kilometers) from Earth — at exactly 0.53 lunar distances.
After finally calculating the asteroid’s orbit, JPL revealed that next week’s approach will be the closest that 2010 WC9 has made in nearly 300 years.
The Minor Planet Center indicates that 2010 WC9 is an Apollo type asteroid, just like the infamous Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia in 2013, injuring around 1,500 people. However, although significantly bigger than the 20-meter (or around 65 feet) Chelyabinsk meteor, 2010 WC9 will sweep past us without incident.
News of its impending approach initially broke a week ago, the Inquisitr reported at the time. Though not much was known about the asteroid until now, its visit was signaled in connection to the upcoming royal wedding at Windsor Castle in the U.K.
Although Tuesday’s visitor won’t be visible to the naked eye, star gazers might be able to catch a glimpse of it with a telescope.
At the same time, the Northolt Branch Observatories (NBO) in London, England, will be live streaming the close encounter on its Facebook page.
“We are planning to broadcast this asteroid live to our Facebook page on the night of May 14, likely around midnight, if the weather forecast remains positive,” Guy Wells, a specialist in observations of near-Earth objects at NBO, told EarthSky in an email.
“The broadcast will be less than 25 minutes in duration, as the asteroid will cross our field of view within that period of time,” he added.