An asteroid will fly past Earth at a distance of just 3.4 million kilometres or 2.1 million miles, the closest approach in more than six decades. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has listed asteroid 2016 AJ193, which is larger than 99 per cent of all known Near-Earth Objects, as ‘potentially hazardous’, defined based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to our planet.
It will be travelling at a massive speed of 94,208 kilometres per hour and astronomers will be able to see the 1.4-kilometre-wide asteroid move past our planet in its orbit via a telescope. By comparison, the Empire State Building in New York is around 1,250 feet tall.
“Closest approach to Earth will occur on August 21, 2021, at 11:10 a.m. ET (8:40pm IST). This means amateur astronomers with 8-inch telescopes (or larger) have an opportunity to see this asteroid glide by early on August 21, just hours before sunrise,” according to Earth Sky.
Nasa has also said that the object will come close to Earth next time on February 22, 2063. According to Nasa, asteroids that can’t get any closer to the Earth than roughly 7,480,000km or 4,650,000 miles or are smaller than about 500 feet in diameter are not considered potentially hazardous.
Asteroid 2016 AJ193 at its closest to Earth will sweep some 8.9 times the Moon’s distance from us. According to Earth Sky, it is a “huge and safe distance” but relatively close for a 1.4-km space rock. Both amateur and professional astronomers will be able to spot it and study it, it added.
Scientists with Nasa will use radar to observe the asteroid until August 24. Astronomers will be able to study the object’s shape, size and spin based on the bouncing radar signals off the asteroid. The radar signals sent to asteroid 2016 AJ193 will be transmitted from California’s Goldstone Antenna, along with small radars in Australia, Spain and Italy, according to Earth Sky.
The asteroid was spotted first in January 2016 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) facility in Hawaii’s Haleakala Observatory. Astronomers have reported that the asteroid is very dark or not very reflective and that its rotation period, pole direction, and spectral class are all unknown.
Nasa’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) said it was aware of nearly 27,000 near-Earth asteroids as of August 15 and around 1,000 of these were thought to be more than 1km in size.