A Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Wider Than 9 Football Fields Will Zip Past Earth Next Week
A gigantic space rock with a diameter exceeding 1 kilometer will zoom past Earth next week at a breakneck speed of 70,415 kilometers per hour (43,754 miles per hour). It will be its closest to our home planet on January 18 at precisely 4:41pm ET, though don't worry, 'close' by NASA and astronomy standards is very different than what you might consider close.
That means you can hold off charging through your bucket list or making last minute spiritual preparations for what might be on the other side. Or don't wait, because life is unpredictable and you never truly know. However, as it applies to the massive asteroid, called 7482 (1994 PC1), it will come within 0.01324 astronomical units of Earth. That's more than 1.98 million kilometers or 1.23 million miles, to use units of measurement you might be more familiar with.
While you'd be doing exceptionally well to own a car that can last that many miles, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory classifies asteroids and comets with orbits that bring them to within 195 million kilometers (120 million miles) as near-Earth objects (NEOs). And most of those are only a few meters (about 10 feet) to nearly 40 kilometers (around 25 miles) in diameter.
The space rock that is on track to pass by Earth next week is monumentally larger, measuring 1.052 kilometers wide (or 3,451 feet, the length of nine and a half American football fields, or 11.5 if going from pay dirt to pay dirt), warranting its official designation as a potentially hazardous asteroid.
"These objects are defined as asteroids that are more than about 460 feet (140 meters) in size with orbits that bring them as close as within 4.6 million miles (7.5 million kilometers) of Earth’s orbit around the Sun. CNEOS continuously monitors all known near-Earth objects to assess any impact risk they may pose," NASA explains.
Such asteroids "require more attention," because you know, better to be safe than extinct. And though 7482 (1994 PC1) will be way off in the cosmic distance, it will actually come closer to Earth than any previous asteroid since January 17, 1933, when another rock came within 700,000 miles of our planet.
Incidentally, NASA does actually have at least some kind of contingency plan just in case an asteroid would ever come barreling towards Earth. Or it's testing one, anyway. It's called Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), and it aims to achieve a kinetic impact deflection by deliberately crashing into a pesky space rock if we ever find one on a collision course with Earth.
Would it work with an asteroid that is 1km in diameter? Let's hope we never have to find out.