A huge asteroid, which could measure up to 1,600 feet across, will fly past Earth this weekend, just before a total lunar eclipse graces the skies.
The space rock, known as 2008 TZ3, will come within about 3.6 million miles of our planet on May 15 at 9:18 p.m. UTC, or 5:18 p.m. ET, according to figures from the Center for Near Object Studies. to Earth (CNEOS) from NASA. Show.
The asteroid will arrive at this point shortly before the first phase of a total lunar eclipse begins at 9:32 p.m. ET on May 15.
While 3.6 million miles is considered a close approach in astronomical terms, there is absolutely no threat of a collision with Earth.
“2008 TZ3 will fly to about 15 times the distance of the Moon, we know the orbit of this asteroid very precisely and can predict with confidence that it will not be able to approach about 15 lunar distances on May 15, which means that it won’t get close more than 3.6 million miles,” said Paul Chodas, director of CNEOS, news week.
Much faster than a bullet
During the space rock’s close approach, it will travel at about 18,300 miles per hour relative to Earth, according to CNEOS, which is about nine times faster than a rifle bullet.
CNEOS estimates that the asteroid measures between 720 and 1,600 feet, which at the upper limit would mean that it is wider than the height of the Empire State Building.
“The size could be anywhere between the limits we give,” Chodas said. “And this is an ‘average’ dimension for the asteroid: If it’s not spherical, its longest extent may even exceed our upper value.”
Based on variations in its brightness, this particular asteroid’s rotation period is about 39 hours, according to Chodas.
The space rock was discovered on October 6, 2008 by the Mt. Lemmon Survey in Arizona and scientists have been tracking it for more than 13 years.
“We have been predicting this month’s approach for more than a decade, as the orbit of this asteroid is well known,” Chodas said.
2008 TZ3 has come closer to Earth than this year’s close approach several times: in 2016, 2018 and 2020. The 2018 approach was the closest of all, with the asteroid coming within six lunar distances.
“There is a repeating two-year pattern with these close approaches, but future ones will get further and further away,” Chodas said.
2008 TZ3 is one of many near-Earth objects (NEOs), a term used to refer to any astronomical body that passes within about 30 million miles of our planet’s orbit.
To date, astronomers have discovered more than 29,000 NEOs, most of which are asteroids and quite small.
More than 2,260 of these NEOs are classified as “potentially hazardous” based on their largest orbits and sizes. But CNEOS analysis of their orbits indicates that none of them have any chance of colliding with Earth for the next century or so.
2008 TZ3 is categorized as potentially hazardous, “but that just reflects the fact that its orbit is close to Earth’s orbit,” Chodas said.
“The orbits do not intersect, and our analyzes show that there is no chance that 2008 TZ3 could impact at any time for at least the next century,” he said. “The ‘Potentially Hazardous’ designation simply means that over many centuries and millennia, the asteroid’s orbit may evolve into one that has a chance of impacting Earth. We did not assess these long-term impact chances of many centuries.”
2008 TZ3 is a medium sized NEO, with the known catalog containing around 5,000 objects that are larger. Asteroids of this medium size collide with our planet only once every 100,000 years, or on average, according to Chodas.
“If one of them hits, which is of course extremely unlikely, it could result in devastation across the continent,” he said. “Our orbital analyzes show that none of the roughly 5,000 known asteroids of this size or larger have any chance of hitting Earth in the next century.”
“Now, more work needs to be done in finding more [Potentially Hazardous asteroids] because we expect there to be another couple thousand or so [of them] yet to discover. Finding as many as possible is the main goal of NASA’s upcoming NEO Surveyor mission.”