NASA has spotted an asteroid that will shoot past the Earth at a distance much closer than the moon in coming weeks.
The 2011 ES4 asteroid will measure up to 49 metres and will fly past us at a speed of 18,253 miles per hour. Now, I’m no expert but that all sounds pretty standard for an asteroid, right?
Maybe so, but that’s not the part that’s caught people’s attention. Nope, because what stands out is exactly how close the asteroid will be to us in comparison to the moon. Disclaimer: it’s very close.
According to the agency, the asteroid will fly-by the Earth on September 1 at 10:49am EDT (15:49pm BST). During this time, the 2011 ES4 will hurtle past at 0.00048 astronomical units away, the equivalent of 44,618 miles.
That means 2011 ES4 will come far closer to Earth than the moon, which is around 238,855 miles away from us. In fact, it’s so close that NASA has deemed its proximity ‘potentially hazardous’, although the agency hasn’t listed it as a threat to our planet because of its small diameter.
The asteroid has been listed by NASA on its ‘Close Approaches‘ database, according to its Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). Now, before you start panicking, a ‘near-Earth object’ (NEO) simply means it’s in the sun’s orbit.
And while these objects do present a ‘threat’ to our planet, not all NEO’s are actually that close to us. Why? Because according to a NASA spokesperson, a comet or asteroid is deemed an NEO if its approach brings it to within 1.3 astronomical units of the sun.
To put that into context, one astronomical unit equates to around 93 million miles, based on the mean distance between the Earth and the sun. Basically, not close at all, although admittedly the 2011 ES4 is much closer than that and is actually listed as the closest asteroid on the list compiled by NASA.
It’s not always been this close to us, though; the asteroid was discovered back in March 2011 when it was approximately 5,000,000 miles from Earth.
Since then, CNEOS has classified the 2011 ES4 as an Apollo asteroid, and like other asteroids that belong to this family, this particular one has a very wide orbit around the Earth and the sun.
From time to time, the asteroid’s orbit intersects with that of the Earth’s as the planet completes its cycle around the sun.
The asteroid has a short observation arc of four days and has not been observed since March 2011, although scientists are hopeful they will be able to catch a glimpse of it during its September approach.
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