Boeing 737-sized asteroid to pass as close to Earth as the Moon

A 100-foot asteroid is due to fly by Earth, nearly as close to the planet as the Moon.

On August 16, the asteroid 2022 PW will pass at a distance of 1.4 LD (Lunar Distance). One LD is how far away the Moon is from the Earth.

According to NASA‘s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), 2022 PW is traveling at a speed of around 7.5 km/s (about 17,000 mph) and is between 75 and 100 feet across, making it roughly the size of a Boeing 737-500, or a blue whale.

Stock image of an asteroid passing close to Earth. Asteroid 2022 PW is due to pass nearly as close to the Earth as the Moon on August 16.
iStock / Getty Images Plus

NASA defines Near Earth Objects as “asteroids or comets whose orbit intersects Earth’s orbit and which may therefore pose a collision danger. Due to their size and proximity, NEOs are also more easily accessible for spacecraft from Earth.”

The majority of asteroids orbit our sun in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, varying in size from a few feet across to Vesta and Ceres, measuring around 350 miles and 600 miles in diameter, respectively. Occasionally, one will be nudged closer towards our sun by some gravitational interaction, leading to flybys like the one seen with 2022 PW.

A measurement of 1.4 LD puts the asteroid around 330,000 miles away from us at its closest point on August 16. While that may sound like an enormous distance, in terms of outer space, the asteroid is actually passing incredibly close.

For reference, the Earth’s closest planetary neighbor, Venus, is still 38 million miles away even at its closest point.

Objects passing closer than 0.05 AU (5 percent of the distance between the Earth and our sun), or 4.7 million miles, are classified as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs). While no objects within this classification are currently thought to be any sort of risk to Earth, astronomers hunt for and track new PHAs constantly.

Luckily, the Earth is in no danger from this jumbo jet-sized fly-by, despite its relative proximity. According to NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, “no known asteroid poses a significant risk of impact with Earth over the next 100 years.”

The probability of 2022 PW in particular colliding with the Earth was calculated by NASA’s CNEOS to be 1.7e-7, or 0.00000017.

Asteroids, especially those passing close to Earth, are still of great scientific interest even if they pose no risk to the planet. Studying asteroids allows scientists to learn more about the origins of the Solar System, as it is thought that the planets formed from the coalescence of smaller rocks like asteroids.

According to NASA data, there have been nearly 30,000 NEOs discovered so far, with the current total asteroid count totaling over 1.1 million.

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