An asteroid the size of a delivery truck will zip near Earth on Thursday, coming as close as 2,200 miles above the planet’s surface in one of the closest approaches ever recorded, NASA scientists say.
The asteroid, named 2023 BU, will travel over the Pacific Ocean near southern Chile on Thursday afternoon Pacific U.S. time, according to Davide Farnocchia, a navigation engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
There is no risk of the asteroid impacting Earth, the scientists say. Even if contact was expected, the relatively small asteroid — estimated to be 11.5 to 28 feet (3.5 to 8.5 meters) across — would turn into a fireball and largely disintegrate in the atmosphere, with some of the debris potentially falling to the ground as small meteorites.
“It’s not going to break up,” Farnocchia told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s going to zoom past Earth, say hello and move on.
This will be the fourth-closest approach recorded, following similar instances as recently as 2021 and 2020. Asteroids are essentially big rocks and harder to recognize than comets, which have spectacular tails picked up on telescopes.
Still, Earthlings can take comfort that NASA’s planetary defense team has our back.
NASA’s Scout impact hazard assessment system, which is maintained by the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, analyzed the data from the MPC’s confirmation page and quickly predicted the near miss.
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Amateur astronomers might like to know, it was a star-gazer among them who first alerted officials.
The asteroid was discovered by Gennadiy Borisov, who was also the discoverer of the interstellar comet 2I/Borisov, from his MARGO observatory in Nauchnyi, Crimea, earlier this month.
Additional observations were reported to the Minor Planet Center (MPC) — the internationally recognized clearinghouse for the position measurements of small celestial bodies — and the data was then automatically posted to the Near-Earth Object Confirmation Page. After sufficient observations were collected, the MPC announced the discovery. Within three days, a number of observatories around the world had made dozens of observations, helping astronomers better refine 2023 BU’s orbit.
“ ‘It’s not going to break up. It’s going to zoom past Earth, say hello and move on.’”
The asteroid’s relationship to Earth will change its course, however.
While any asteroid in Earth’s proximity will experience a change in trajectory due to our planet’s gravity, 2023 BU will come so close that its path around the Sun is expected to be significantly altered.
Before encountering Earth, the asteroid’s orbit around the Sun was roughly circular, approximating Earth’s orbit, taking 359 days to complete its orbit about the Sun. After its encounter, the asteroid’s orbit will be more elongated, moving it out to about halfway between Earth’s and Mars’ orbits at its farthest point from the Sun, the scientists explained. The asteroid will then complete one orbit every 425 days.
Find more information about CNEOS, asteroids and near-Earth objects.