An artist’s rendition of an asteroid

(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Thursday, July 7: As we come fresh off the heels of World Asteroid Day last Thursday, it seems like one “rockstar” has arrived fashionably late to the cosmic party! According to calculations by NASA, a small asteroid the size of a bus will make an extremely close pass to our planet post-midnight today!

Measuring only about 5.5 metres at most, this asteroid isn’t just small enough to not be of any particular danger to our planet, but also very sneaky, as no one knew it was approaching our planet until only a few days ago.

This master of hide-and-seek has been named 2022 NF and will pass within just 90,000 kilometres from the Earth. For reference, this is just 23% of the average distance between the Earth and its lunar companion, the Moon.

2022 NF is too small to meet NASA’s standards for a “possibly hazardous asteroid,” which typically requires an object to travel within 7.5 million km of Earth and be at least 460 feet (140 metres) long.

While the asteroid isn’t any cause for worry right now, it can be a treat for space-watchers, as it will be visible to some telescopes starting July 6. To others who might not own a telescope, you can watch it on the Virtual Telescope Project’s livestream from 1:30 am on Friday, Indian standard time.

This space rock was discovered using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) — a system of cameras and telescopes that detect Near Earth Objects (NEOs). NASA monitors these NEOs in part so we have ample time to act on extraterrestrial threats when they approach our world.

For example, in November 2021, NASA also launched the DART mission (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) which will slam head-first into the Dimorphos asteroid sometime this year. The aim of this planned collision is to assess how much we can move the 160-metre asteroid out of its orbit, which will validate the effectiveness of the DART precautionary mission.

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