Every now and then, you’ll see an article on some newly-discovered asteroid whizzing past Earth at some sort of distance that may seem extremely close.
In reality, pretty much every significantly-sized asteroid we discover or know of already passes Earth at an inconsequential distance.
For instance, earthsky.org has a story up about a 1 km-long asteroid passing more than a million miles away from Earth. The article states that this is 5.15 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
Hardly worth the raise of an eyebrow.
Asteroids are not uncommon in space. In fact, NASA has discovered and is keeping track of nearly 28,000 near-Earth asteroids.
You may take a look at that number and then raise that eyebrow. However, not all of these asteroids are large. Asteroids can be as small as 33 feet across, NASA says. That’s much smaller than The One’s Christ Tree downtown. The largest asteroid is Vesta, at about 329 miles in diameter, according to NASA, and that object is in the asteroid belt, far away from Earth. The much-larger Ceres is also in the asteroid belt, but is now classified as a dwarf planet, akin to Pluto.
Large asteroids such as Vesta are visible through a telescope, much like a planet would be. The asteroid referenced at the beginning of this column is visible, though at a pretty dim magnitude 10.
But anyway, articles that talk about asteroids passing really, really close to Earth are typically eye-rollers for me. At the same time, I’m glad the Planetary Defense Coordination Office is tracking any potentially harmful objects that may be headed toward Earth. Its program uses a variety of space- and ground-based telescope to discover new asteroids and determine if they could be a threat to us.
So if you hear about any of these near-Earth asteroids, don’t panic, have a plan! An observing plan, that is!
Joe Malan is presentation editor and astronomy writer for the Enid News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.