Asteroid will pass closer than some moons

Chart showing the orbits of Asteroid 2023 BU and the orbits of partner satellites around Earth.

Chart showing the orbits of Asteroid 2023 BU and the orbits of partner satellites around Earth.

Absolutely do not panic, but there is a large asteroid about to pass by Earth in the coming hours.

About the size of a bus, the space rock known as 2023 BU will whip up the southern tip of South America just after midnight GMT.

With an expected closest approach of 3,600 km (2,200 miles), it counts as a close shave.

And it shows how significant-sized asteroids still lurk near Earth and await detection.

This was taken last weekend by amateur astronomer Gennadiy Borisov, who operates on the Nauchnyi peninsula in Crimea, which Russia captured from Ukraine in 2014.

Follow-up observations have clarified what we know about the size and, most importantly, orbit of 2023 BU.

That way, astronomers can be sure that the earth, 36,000 km (22,000 miles) above us, will miss the planet, even if it enters the broadcast occupied by telecommunications satellites.

The lowest altitude time on Thursday was calculated as 19.27 EST; 00:27 GMT on Friday.

Even if the 2023 BU was on a direct collision course, it would still struggle to deal a lot of damage.

With an estimated size of 3.5 m to 8.5 m (11.5 feet to 28 feet), the rock will most likely break up in the higher atmosphere. It would still produce a magnificent fireball.

For comparison, the famous Chelyabinsk meteor, which entered Earth’s atmosphere over southern Russia in 2013, was an object 20 m (66 ft) in diameter. It produced a shock wave that shattered the windows on the ground.

Scientists at the US space agency Nasa say that 2023 BU’s orbit around the Sun will be altered by its encounter with Earth.

Our planet’s gravity will pull it and set its path through space.

“Before encountering Earth, the asteroid’s orbit around the Sun was roughly circular, approaching Earth’s orbit, and took 359 days to complete its orbit around the Sun,” the agency said in a statement.

“After it encounters, the asteroid’s orbit will be longer, taking it at about half the orbits of Earth and Mars at its furthest point from the Sun. The asteroid will then complete one orbit every 425 days.”

There is a great effort to find much larger asteroids that could actually cause damage if they hit Earth.

Graphic: Asteroid populations

Graphic: Asteroid populations

Like the 12km wide boulder that wiped out the dinosaurs, all of the real monsters out there have probably been spotted and are nothing to worry about. But in size, get down to, say, something 150m in diameter and we have gaps in our inventory.

Statistics show that perhaps only 40% of these asteroids have been sighted and evaluated to determine the level of threat they may pose.

Such objects cause city-scale destruction if they hit the ground.

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