An asteroid up to three times the size of a blue whale will pass Earth on Monday June 6 at over 16,000 mph (26,000 km/h), according to NASA (opens in a new tab).
The asteroid, named 2021 GT2, is expected to safely miss our planet by more than 2.2 million miles (3.5 million kilometers) – about 10 times the average distance between Earth and the moon. Astronomers first detected the space rock last year and estimated its size between 121 and 272 feet (37 to 83 meters) wide. Although it looks quite large – between one and three times the length of a blue whale (opens in a new tab) – it is not large enough to be considered a potential danger to Earth.
2021 GT2 is an Aten-class asteroid, meaning it orbits the Sun closer than Earth (once every 342 days, in this case), and its orbital path crosses Earth’s orbit. Astronomers know of more than 1,800 such asteroids, many of which are considered potentially dangerous.
Related: What are the largest impact craters on Earth? (opens in a new tab)
After June 6, its next close approach to Earth will be on January 26, 2034, when the asteroid will pass within 9 million miles (14.5 million km) of our planet – much further than the approach coming.
The asteroid is considered a near-Earth object – a term given to asteroids and comets that orbit within 1.3 astronomical units of the sun. (An astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and the sun, about 93 million miles or 149.6 million km.) NASA monitors tens of thousands of these objects, predicting the trajectories of each from today to hundreds of years in the future. At this time, astronomers do not believe that any near-Earth object poses a threat to Earth.
Still, scientists want to be prepared if the trajectory of a near-Earth asteroid were to suddenly change following an unexpected incident – for example, one near-Earth asteroid colliding with another and dumping large chunks of debris all over the planet. solar system.
NASA is currently testing whether a large asteroid could be thrown off course by crashing a rocket into it. In November 2021, NASA launched an asteroid-deflecting spacecraft called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which will crash into the 530-foot-wide (160 m) asteroid Dimorphos in the fall of 2022. The collision will not won’t destroy the asteroid, but it may slightly alter the rock’s orbital path, Live Science previously reported.
Originally posted on Live Science.