An asteroid estimated to be between 1.1 and 2.5 miles wide will pass perilously close to Earth in April, although NASA is clear that the space rock will stay far enough away that it won’t put the planet in any danger.
As CNN reports, 52768 (1998 OR2), which sky-watchers have known about for two decades, is — like an untold number of space rocks known and unknown — locked in an orbit around the Sun that brings it within range of the Earth from time to time.
This time, its closest pass will occur on April 29 — specifically at 4:46 a.m. Eastern Time — when it will fly within 3,908,791 million miles of Earth, moving at 19,461 miles per hour.
In cosmic terms, that’s close enough to get the rock put on NASA’s list of Potentially Hazardous Objects and thus monitored by the agency’s Sentry System.
“[The Sentry System is] a highly automated collision monitoring system that continually scans the most current asteroid catalog for possibilities of future impact with Earth over the next 100 years,” NASA said.
Were the Earth’s and the asteroid’s paths just a little bit different, enough so that it appeared likely the rock would be caught by Earth’s gravity and brought down for an impact, things would be much more dire.
An asteroid that size, if it fell on a populated area, could level whole cities and instantly kill millions. However, the odds of any space rock landing in a populated area are vanishingly small. That doesn’t mean they can’t do severe damage, though. If a rock the size of 52768 (1998 OR2) hit the planet, it would kick up enough debris into the atmosphere that it would block out sunlight and cause a sort of nuclear winter that could devastate life.
It seems that news of potentially-deadly asteroid impacts are an almost-weekly occurrence. For example, just two weeks ago, The Inquisitr reported that a “planet-killer” asteroid was predicted to pass perilously close to Earth.
A lot more similar stories are likely to appear in the coming years, due to the increase in size of the system that monitors the skies for asteroids and other space debris. Later in 2020, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile will come online and will open the door to untold numbers of asteroids being located, identified, and tracked.
“It’s an exciting time for planetary defense because we are on the verge of an absolute flood of new observations that will allow us to track 10 times more asteroids than we’ve ever tracked before,” said Ed Lu, executive director of the Asteroid Institute and a former NASA astronaut.