An asteroid roughly the size of a football field is spiraling toward Earth, deemed “potentially hazardous” as it works into Earth’s orbit. Needless to say, with a headline like that, it seems the end is near.
While all of the above statements are factually accurate (minus the the whole the end is near deal), headlines like these shared around social media and the internet in general don’t quite paint an accurate portrait of the situation. Let’s put it this way, I still plan on coming to work next week.
Here’s the deal: There is indeed a relatively large asteroid set to work into our general vicinity with closest approach on December 11. At just over 1,000 feet it’s about the size of the Eiffel tower and is indeed classified as potentially hazardous by NASA. That designation is used for any asteroid that is expected to make a close approach of at least 4.65 million miles to Earth. 4660 Nereus (the name of this particular asteroid) is expected to pass around 2.44 million miles from Earth at closest approach, around 10 times the distance between the Earth and Moon. You can make 5 round trips to the Moon and back before you’d cover the distance to this particular asteroid at closest approach. While 2,440,000 miles is a relatively short distance when talking vast space terms, it’s more than plenty of a buffer to negate any realistic threat that this asteroid is going to slam into your backyard.
In fact, there are over 2,000 “potentially hazardous” asteroids we’re aware of as of today, many of which will pass much closer than this one. Here are the next 5-
So while asteroids like this are a tantalizing target for attention-grabbing headlines, it helps having some astronomical texture to the situation. While Nereus will fly harmlessly by next Saturday, it’s only goodbye for now. Its orbit brings it into our cosmic region roughly every 10 years. In 2060 the asteroid will pass much closer, only 745,000 miles from Earth. That’s assuming, of course, we haven’t already been wiped out by another asteroid social media promises to hit our planet. Enjoy your asteroid impact-free week!
Chief Meteorologist Eric Snitil