Next week, a huge asteroid will fly by Earth.

 

Very large space rocks that fly within 4.6 million miles (7.5 million kilometers) of Earth's solar orbit are known as potentially hazardous asteroids.
Very large space rocks that fly within 4.6 million miles (7.5 million kilometers) of Earth's solar 
orbit are known as potentially hazardous asteroids. 
 (Image credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library/Getty Images)

Unlike the alleged planet-killer comet in the popular film "Don't Look Up," a giant asteroid the size of two Empire State Buildings is on our way. However, this space rock will pass harmlessly past Earth.

Known as (7482) 1994 PC1, the asteroid will pass at its closest on January 18January 18 at 4:51 p.m. EDT (2151 GMT), moving at 43,754 mph (70,415 km/h) and racing through Earth in an area about the size of Texas at a distance of 0.01324 astronomical units—1.2 million miles (almost 2 million kilometers) (SSD).

You would think that's a safe distance, and it is. In terms of distance from the sun, though, it's very near for something so massive. NASA considers the asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1, which is around 3,609 feet (1,100 meters) long and has little chance of colliding with Earth, to be a potentially dangerous object, notwithstanding this fact. According to NASA's Asteroid Watch, this phrase refers to asteroids that are more than 460 feet (140 meters) long and have orbits that bring them within 4.6 million miles (7.5 million kilometers) of the Earth's orbit.

n the Netflix movie "Don't Look Up" (2021), astrophysicist Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and graduate student Kate DiBiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) confront the data about an approaching comet. (Image credit: Niko Tavernise/Netflix)
In the Netflix movie "Don't Look Up" (2021), astrophysicist Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and graduate student Kate DiBiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) confront the data about an approaching comet. (Image credit: Niko Tavernise/Netflix)


Known as near-Earth objects (NEOs), the impending asteroid is part of a more comprehensive class of space rocks that pass within 30 million miles (50 million kilometers) of Earth's orbit. Near-Earth Object Studies reports that the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) has located more than 28,000 NEOs with a diameter of at least 460 feet. The NEO Observations Program of NASA has discovered, identified, and characterized these objects (CNEOS).

As a result, the CNEOS predicts that "a dramatic spike in discoveries is predicted" in the coming few years as bigger and more powerful survey telescopes accelerate the search.

After a near-Earth asteroid or comet is discovered by observers, scientists examine the object's orbit to determine its proximity to Earth. Even though hundreds of asteroids and comets whizzing through the solar system, NASA claims that the objects in the CNEOS database do not constitute a severe danger to Earth for the next century or more.

On August 9August 9, 1994, astronomer Robert H. McNaught discovered asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1. Other researchers subsequently used McNaught's data to determine the asteroid's orbital route, speed, and trajectory on earlier visits through our cosmological neighborhood. According to EarthSky, they discovered that the asteroid circles the sun every 572 days, and they were able to spot the visitor in telescope photographs dating back to 1974. EarthSky reports that if visibility is excellent on January 18January 18, the asteroid will be bright enough to be observed with a backyard telescope in a dark sky region at night.

On January 18January 18, 1933, the asteroid was just as near as it is now, but it was a lot closer. SSD estimates that the space rock will not travel within 699,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) of Earth again until 2105.

 

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