An asteroid the size of the Empire State Building will be hurtling by Earth at around 6 pm on Aug. 3.
However, there’s no need to channel our inner Bruce Willis in Armageddon, according to the University of Calgary’s Dr. Jeroen Stil, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
“This one is a comfortable miss,” says Stil.
The space rock, dubbed 2022 OE2, was discovered just days ago on July 26, and Stil says it is fairly big for a recently discovered near-Earth object.
He says 2022 OE2, which is estimated to be around 300 to 400 metres across, is not much smaller than some of the big near-Earth asteroids that scientists thought had all been discovered. “This is a reminder that there are things around out there that we don’t know of,” says Stil.
Another unique characteristic of this asteroid is its orbit. According to Stil, the asteroid’s orbit is more stretched than the typical orbit, going almost as far out as the orbit of Jupiter, passing the Earth, and getting closer to the Sun, to within Mercury’s orbit.
Most asteroids in the solar system are located within the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and they stay within the belt. However, there are about 20,000 asteroids that come near to Earth.
Stil says 2022 OE2 is a standout because it crosses the Earth’s orbit, along with the orbits of Mars, Venus and Mercury. “When I look at the orbit in detail, it stays below the Earth’s orbit,” he says. “I don’t think this is a particularly dangerous one.”
Things get dicey when an asteroid intersects with the plane of the Earth’s orbit, making the potential for impact much higher.
Visible from South Pole
Unfortunately, for any stargazers in Calgary looking to see this flyby, the asteroid will be passing by underneath the Earth, meaning it would only be visible from the South Pole, and even then, only with some very powerful equipment.
“It would have to be a really strong telescope, as this thing is several times fainter than the planet Pluto in the sky,” says Stil.
Though it presents very little risk to the planet, 2022 OE2 has garnered a fair amount of media attention, and Stil says it might be the game of chance that the rock presented which made it so fascinating.
“If it had come straight for us, we would have had a space rock of a few hundred meters across come down with a few days notice,” he says.
Asteroids have had a starring role in more than a few Hollywood films as well, so the idea of a cataclysmic impact has captured the public consciousness.
Of course, the Earth has not been 100 per cent lucky when it comes to space objects. Stil says the Earth is hit by meteoroids quite often, and there have been a few noticeable impacts in the past century.
All eyes on space rock
As more cameras and satellites are set up to scan the Earth, Stil says we are becoming more aware of space rock falling.
There are asteroids that pass much closer to the Earth, with Stil noting there was one last month which passed well within the distance to the moon, about 30 times closer than 2022 OE2.
For Stil, the asteroid shows that there are near-Earth objects out there that have yet to be found and could present hazards.
“It gives you pause, every time an object like that comes out of nowhere that we didn’t know about and passes close to Earth.”