1.7km Asteroid Heading Towards Earth Will Safely Pass Our Planet, NASA Says

NASA has posted a tweet reassuring Earth that the planet will not be devastated by an asteroid impact on March 21 when a large asteroid is due to pass by.

The asteroid, called 2001 FO32, will pass the Earth at a distance of around 1.2 million miles, or more than five times the distance between our planet and the moon.

This distance may seem enormous but is quite close in astronomical terms. Additionally, the asteroid is thought to be unusually large, with NASA's upper estimate giving it a diameter of just over one mile, or 1.7km.

It is also travelling at around 77,000 miles per hour relative to Earth, or one-third as fast as a bolt of lightning.

NASA's Asteroid Watch Twitter account acknowledged the asteroid was big but assured followers it "poses no risk of hitting Earth" in a post on March 8.

You may have seen headlines about an #asteroid that will safely fly by Earth on March 21. While this asteroid, known as 2001 FO32, is large, it will safely zip past Earth at a distance of 1.3 million miles—five times further away than the Moon—and poses no risk of hitting Earth. pic.twitter.com/oZZG5UaFsf

— NASA Asteroid Watch (@AsteroidWatch) March 8, 2021

NASA currently lists more than 25,000 asteroids in its Near-Earth Asteroids (NEA) database, and only around 1,000 of them are listed as being over 1km in size.

Tracking asteroid size may give insight into how much damage would occur if one were to strike the Earth. Due to their enormous speed, even tiny asteroids carry huge amounts of energy.

NASA has estimated the one that exploded over the state of Vermont on March 7 was probably only around six inches across, yet the blast released the same amount of energy as 440 pounds of TNT and was enough to rattle homes despite breaking apart 33 miles high.

A more serious incident occurred in 2013, when a much heftier asteroid thought to have been around 56 feet in diameter exploded in the sky over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk after entering the atmosphere at around 40,000 miles per hour.

Peter Brown, a physics professor at Western University in Ontario, Canada, told NASA: "The energy of the resulting explosion exceeded 470 kilotons of TNT."

More than 1,600 people were injured as a result of the blast, largely due to windows being blown out. The shockwave travelled hundreds of miles.

NASA scientists are currently working on a way to defend Earth from asteroids that pose a threat to the planet.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is due to launch in July this year, in which NASA will deliberately crash a cube-shaped spacecraft into the Didymos asteroid system to see if this changes the asteroid's orbit.

More specifically, the Didymos system comprises a large asteroid orbited by a moonlet. The DART spacecraft will crash into the moonlet in late September 2022, and ground-based observatories on Earth will measure how the moonlet's momentum changes.

The technique may one day be used to knock asteroids off course if it looks like they are about to collide with the Earth.

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An asteroid, called 2001 FO32, will pass the Earth at a distance of around 1.2 million miles, or more than five times the distance between our planet and the moon. iStock