A giant asteroid – well, a pretty big one – will pass perilously close to Earth on Friday, the Express is reporting.
AD16, as it’s been named by the asteroid-watching community, has been on NASA’s radar (so to speak) since at least 2014, the last time it passed by. It’s due to make its closest approach to Earth since then on Friday, January 4, at 1:30 a.m. UTC (about 6:30 p.m. Thursday night Eastern Time).
What’s more, the Near-Earth Object (NEO), as it’s been dubbed, is traveling at an estimated 20,000 miles per hour. And then there’s its size: It’s estimated to be around 28.8 feet to 65.6 feet in diameter – that’s pretty big, as these things go.
But most concerning to scientists is the nearness of the object’s approach. At its closest, it’s expected to pass by at 0.03297 astronomical units (AU) of the Earth. What does that mean? Well, one AU is more-or-less the average distance of the center of the Earth to the center of the Sun – approximately 93 million miles (rounding up for simplicity’s sake). So doing some quick math, it seems that AD16 is going to pass the Earth at about 3 million miles, give or take.
So, two takeaways from this. First, the asteroid is expected to pass by at about 12 times the distance between the Earth and the moon. And second, even though that seems like a pretty big distance, as far as NASA is concerned, that’s too close for comfort.
While AD16 is expected to pass by harmlessly and then leave us alone for the next few months (it’s estimated to return on June 4, 2019), the space rock represents the very real danger of NEOs.
NASA estimates that there are 10 million NEOs out there in space, and they’re doing their dead-level best to identify and track them. However, that’s not to say that some aren’t going to slip through.
Perhaps the most famous example of this happened in 2013 when a NEO managed to enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and no one noticed until it was too late. It happened over Chelyabinsk, Russia, and as NASA explains, it wasn’t small potatoes.
“Even small NEOs can have significant destructive effects. For example, on February 15, 2013, an asteroid approximately 20 meters in size created an airburst near Chelyabinsk, Russia, with roughly 20 to 30 times more energy than that released by the first atomic bombs.”
The Chelyabinsk meteor damaged thousands of buildings and indirectly injured thousands of people, most of whom were injured by broken glass propelled by the shock wave.