An asteroid is flying past Earth today.
Though it is known as a “potentially hazardous asteroid” because of its relatively close passes, the object will only come within 3.5 million kilometres – so distant that it will not be visible with the naked eye and poses no immediate danger.
The asteroid, named 2017 AE3, is travelling fast. It will fly past at 20 kilometres per second, before flying off into space – not to return until 2109.
It is somewhere between 116 and 259 metres across. That is relatively small for an asteroid, though at roughly the size of a bus it is still large enough to make a significant impact if it did crash into Earth.
Nasa tracks a vast amount of such objects, which it calls “near-Earth objects” or NEOs. Anything that comes within 120 million miles of Earth – “near” only in the terms of the solar system – is given the designation.
The space agency is tasked with tracking the orbit of such objects precisely. Even the smallest change in their direction could send them towards Earth, and so an awareness of where all such objects are in space is a key part of protecting the planet from danger.
That work is led by Nasa’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. That works not only to catalogue those objects but also to work across the US government to prepare for any possible impact.
Last month, Nasa launched its “Dart” mission, which will slam into an asteroid to see whether it might be possible to shunt any possible dangerous object that might come towards is in the future out of our way.
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