Updated: August 6, 2019 11:52:05 am
An asteroid bigger than the Empire State Building is scheduled to pass by the Earth on August 10 at speeds of about 16,740 km per hour. Named Asteroid 2006 QQ23, the celestial object has an estimated diameter of up to 569 metres will fly within 0.049 astronomical units of Earth, which is around 7.4 million kilometres.
Since the asteroid is within a range of 0.05 astronomical units of Earth, it has been labelled as potentially hazardous. But there is no reason to worry about the rock crashing into our planet. Lindley Johnson and Kelly Fast of NASA’s Planetary Defence Coordination Office, which tracks near-Earth objects such as asteroid and comets that orbit the Sun and other planets, told CNN that the Asteroid 2006 QQ23 is “more or less benign”.
NASA’s Planetary Defence Coordination page explains that small asteroids a few meters in size are detected passing between Earth and the Moon’s orbit several times a month. Small fragments of asteroids and comets hit Earth’s atmosphere and explode virtually every day, causing the bright meteor events that people see at night. Sometimes these objects leave remnants on the ground as meteorites.
NASA tracks such near-Earth objects not because they are an imminent threat but to ensure that they do not become threats. Every year about six objects as big as the size of Asteroid 2006 QQ23 fly by Earth making it a routine event.
According to NASA JPL’s Centre for near-Earth object studies, as of now, there are about 900 near-Earth objects measuring more than 1 kilometres, which is much larger than the Asteroid 2006 QQ3. As per NASA, no known asteroid poses a significant risk of impact with Earth over the next 100 years.
The highest risk of impact for a known asteroid is a 1 in 714 chance of impact by an asteroid designated 2009 FD in 2185. It means that the possibility that it could impact the Earth then is less than 0.2 per cent, NASA noted.
One asteroid that NASA is studying up close called Bennu, and it has a 1/2700 chance of impacting Earth between 2175 and 2195. NASA and other space agencies are studying methods to deflect asteroids if they threaten to impact the Earth.
One of those techniques is called a gravity tractor, which alters the course of the asteroid. It involves a spacecraft that would rendezvous with an asteroid without landing on its surface and maintaining its relative, optimal position to use the mutual gravitational attraction between the satellite and the asteroid to slowly alter the course of the asteroid. A gravity tractor spacecraft could even enhance its own gravitational attraction by first plucking a boulder off the surface of the asteroid to add to its own mass.
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