It may not seem that close. But to astronomers, 2.8 million miles is a near-miss.
That’s how close an enormous asteroid will pass by Earth on Friday, astronomers predict, according to a story from the Mirror.
The asteroid — labeled 2014-YB35 — was discovered by Catalina Sky Survey late last year and astronomers have been watching it ever since. The asteroid, traveling more than 23,000 mph, measures between 500 and 1,000 meters wide.
Near misses like this are not a rare occurrence. Smaller objects pass by Earth all the time. The Register reports the smaller asteroid, 2004-BL86, passed by Earth in January, missing by just 745,000 miles.
But an object the size of YB35 only swings through about once every 5,000 years, according to an article from the Express.
If YB35 were to crash into the planet, the impact would release an explosive force equivalent to about 15,000 megatons of TNT.
That would alter the planet’s climate and most likely end all life, said Bill Napier, an astronomy professor at the University of Buckinghamshire.
“With something like YB35, we are looking at a scale of global destruction, something that would pose a risk to the continuation of the planet,” Napier told the Express.
That’s not going to happen with this pass, he said, noting that major impacts are very rare.
However, Napier pointed out, smaller impacts can still do a remarkable amount of damage and scientists aren’t good at gauging the risk involved, because smaller objects are not always discovered.
He pointed to the 1908 Tunguska Event in which a 50-meter wide asteroid crashed into Siberia. That impact, caused by an object only a fraction of the size of YB35, flattened an estimated 80 million trees and sent a massive shockwave across Russia. Had the rock hit a city it could have killed millions.
“Smaller scale events like Tunguska are absolutely a real risk, largely they are undiscovered and so we are unprepared,” Napier said.
YB35 is expected to pass Earth again in 2033. It will pass slightly closer but is still not expected to impact the planet, according to The Register.
Photo Credit: Hubble ESA/Flickr, Mirror