Astronomers discovered a brand new asteroid on Monday, and it’s expected to barely miss our planet.
The asteroid, 2022 NF, was discovered by the Pan-STARRS astronomical survey on July 4.
Scientists quickly made calculations to predict which way the asteroid was headed, and found that it was traveling almost directly towards Earth. On July 7, at about 10 a.m. ET, 2022 NF is due to travel within just under 55,000 miles of Earth.
This is a hair’s width in astronomical terms and is a fraction of the distance between the Earth and the moon, which is around 239,000 miles.
Fortunately, 2022 NF is expected to safely pass by our planet. In addition, it’s not thought to be big enough to cause any global devastation—though it might have caused local damage were it to strike Earth.
Astronomers think 2022 NF is between 18 and 39 feet in diameter, making it roughly house-sized. This is relatively small compared to many asteroids, some of which can be over a mile wide.
However, 2022 NF is also thought to be traveling at more than 25,000 miles per hour, meaning that it would still pack a punch in any hypothetical future impact scenario.
When an asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 2013, it generated a shockwave that blew out windows over 200 square miles, injuring 1,600 people, mostly due to broken glass. That space rock was also described as “house-sized”.
In any case, 2022 NF is predicted to leave Earth unscathed and it will even be possible to watch the asteroid as it zooms past our planet.
A live stream of the asteroid’s close encounter is due to be hosted by the Virtual Telescope Project astronomy organization in Italy. The coverage will start at 5 p.m. ET this afternoon, July 6 on the group’s WebTV page here. As mentioned, the close pass is due to happen several hours later.
Asteroids pass Earth all the time, though not all of them come quite as close as 2022 NF. Currently scientists have discovered roughly 29,000 near-Earth asteroids.
While scientific interest in comets and asteroids is largely due to their status as unchanged remnants from the Early solar system, it’s also important to assess the risk they pose to Earth and come up with strategies to avoid an impending impact if possible—something NASA is working on with the upcoming Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) in September this year.