NASA Is Tracking Asteroid Nereus As A Near Earth Object Worth $5B In Precious Metals

nereus asteroid
An asteroid that is roughly the size of the Eiffel Tower is nearing Earth's orbit this month. The giant space rock is also estimated to be comprised of precious metals worth nearly $5 billion dollars.

It has been less than a month since NASA launched its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which is sending a satellite through space to slam into the asteroid Dimorphos. The test is being done in order to find out if doing so can safely alter the trajectory of a large asteroid that has the potential to impact Earth and could cause massive destruction. While NASA does not anticipate an asteroid with that potential in the near future, ones like Nereus that is nearing Earth's orbit remind all of us that someday the risk could still be there.

This particular asteroid being watched closely by NASA and others is named 4660 Nereus. The name Nereus is derived after the Greek sea god who was the son of Gaia, the personification of Earth. It's projected to be entering Earth's orbit on December 11th. The very large asteroid that is estimated to be around the same size as the Eiffel Tower is traveling at a speed of 14,700 mph (23,700 km/h). This flyby of Earth will be around 2.4 million miles (3.86 km) away from our planet, but still closer than it has been in 20 years.

nereus size
Asteroid Nereus Size Approximation - Credit: NASA

The asteroid first made the news when it was discovered in 1982 by E.F. Helin. Nereus made the headlines once again back in 2009 when NASA planned an attempt to land on its surface and extract minerals from it. The team was to be led by Donald K. Yeomans, the manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, in conjunction with a Japanese-led team. That attempt was later scrubbed when the Japanese-led Hayabusa mission chose another near-Earth object, Itokawa, that returned a sample from its surface in 2010.

Even though the risk of Nereus impacting Earth is slim, the event is still being flagged by NASA as a potential threat. This happens anytime an object in space comes within 120 million miles of Earth, but it may be Nereus' flyby around the year 2060 that has some more excited. This is when the asteroid is projected to come within roughly 0.74 million miles (1.2 million km) of Earth. This places the vastly mineral-rich asteroid within three moons distance from Earth and will be an extremely tempting target for mining of its precious metals. It is thought that Nereus contains nickel, iron and cobalt with an estimated value of around $4.71 billion.

NASA is not the only space agency planning a direct impact test on asteroids. China is also in the early planning stages of conducting their own impact test. They are looking into the possibility of sending 23 of their Long March 5 rockets on a mission to slam into asteroid Bennu, diverting it from a potentially disastrous impact with Earth. So, if there ever is a true risk a Earth-bound catastrophic event, there are contingency plans being worked on currently by various organizations that will hopefully save us all.