An asteroid is headed for Earth, should we be concerned?

An asteroid is headed for Earth, should we be concerned?

A massive asteroid, almost the size of the tallest building on Earth, is heading for the planet in mid-December, as per NASA’s asteroid tracker.

Designated 163899 (2003 SD220), the massive asteroid has a diameter of approximately 791 meters, nearly the size of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest manmade structure on Earth. 

However, observations made in 2015 by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico suggested it could be as far as at least 2 kilometres in length, with observers comparing its shape to that of a sweet potato. 

NASA later came up with different measurements, around 1.6 kilometres, and compared to the shape of a hippopotamus. However, as per current NASA estimates place the asteroid at a diameter of 791 metres.

The asteroid is set to fly past the Earth on December 17 within a distance of around 5.4 million kilometres away from the planet at a speed of 5.6 km/s. 

For comparison, the distance between the Earth and the Moon is far less than that — around 385,000 kilometres. As such, despite being classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA) due to its size and close proximity to Earth, it seems unlikely to pose a threat to the planet. In fact, NASA has declared the Earth safe from asteroid impacts for the next 100 years.

The asteroid is considered to be in the Aten-class, meaning its orbit crosses over with Earth’s orbit around the Sun, but it spends most of its time inside it.

As per Hasan Al Hariri, the CEO of Dubai Astronomy Group the asteroid’s size isn’t a cause for concern as it will pass Earth safely.

“The asteroid will fly past and go even beyond the moon. It’s not going to collide with our planet. There are more than 500 such asteroids. These are also called NEOs or Nearth-Earth Objects or Hazardous Bodies,” he said.

“There are different types of asteroids, and we have to create different methods to defend Earth against potential asteroids or comet hazards,” Al Hariri added.

The asteroid in question is set to pass 1.93 million kilometres from Earth, or about five times the distance between Earth and Moon.

“Nasa’s programmes of planetary defence systems monitor all such bodies that can cause a threat to Earth, either in the short or long-term. Different space agencies also monitor the sky and there are many surveys held around the year and around the world to identify such objects that could pose a threat to us. Additionally, advanced telescopes are being manufactured that can capture up to even one million objects coming from space,” Al Hariri said. 

Regardless of the potential though, many are also rightly worried about the dangers of near-Earth asteroids, as impacts can be devastating and humanity currently lacks an adequate means of defending against them.

One method for possibly stopping the impact of an asteroid is through the use of deflection, which would mean launching something to slightly alter its path.

In October, the United Arab Emirates announced plans for a new mission to explore asteroids and be the first Arab nation to successfully land a spacecraft on an asteroid.

Tentatively set to launch in 2028 with a seven-year development time for the spacecraft, the mission will see the UAE explore the planet Venus, as well as seven asteroids, culminating in a planned landing on an asteroid itself in 2033 after a five-year journey.

Three nations have landed on asteroids in the past, and many see them as possible sources for future mining operations, as these asteroids can be rich in raw materials.

Source: Agencies and Supplied

Vismay Anand

An avid reader who enjoys a good bite and a good binge of TV shows at any given time. She is here to tell you stories just as they happened.

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