Large asteroid to fly between Earth and the moon on Saturday
An asteroid will zoom past Earth this week at such close range that standard telescopes may be able to spot it in the night sky, experts say.
The space rock, dubbed 2023 DZ2 by NASA, is expected to fly between Earth and the moon at speeds exceeding 17,400 miles per hour, according to the agency, which assigned it a rarity score of three as the occurrence only happens roughly once per decade.
The asteroid will pass by Friday and Saturday on a track that scientists suggest is slightly less than half the average distance to the moon from Earth — which is still 174,650 kilometers, or about 108,000 miles — and measures between 140 feet and 310 feet in diameter. For reference, an Olympic-sized swimming pool is about 164 feet long.
Astronomers at the observatory of La Palma in Spain's Canary Islands discovered 2023 DZ2 in late February of this year and have studied the rock to note its orbit, size and anticipated trajectory ever since.
It will travel closest to Earth in the afternoon on March 25, at around 3:50 p.m. Eastern time, according to the website EarthSky. People in the northern hemisphere will likely have the best opportunity to see the asteroid, which experts believe will be observable through small telescopes, in the evening on Friday, March 24.
NASA introduced the upcoming cosmic visitor in messages shared to Twitter this week, which confirmed that the asteroid is not expected to collide to with Earth. Despite that, the agency said that its close approach will allow astronomers to learn more about asteroids, helping them prepare for any "potential asteroid threat" that could be discovered in the future.
"A newly discovered #asteroid named 2023 DZ2 will safely pass by Earth on Saturday at 100K+ miles away," reads a tweet shared Tuesday to the NASA Asteroid Watch account on Twitter. "While close approaches are a regular occurrence, one by an asteroid of this size (140-310 ft) happens only about once per decade, providing a unique opportunity for science."
A newly discovered #asteroid named 2023 DZ2 will safely pass by Earth on Saturday at 100K+ miles away. 🌎
While close approaches are a regular occurrence, one by an asteroid of this size (140-310 ft) happens only about once per decade, providing a unique opportunity for science.
— NASA Asteroid Watch (@AsteroidWatch) March 21, 2023
"Astronomers with the International Asteroid Warning Network are using this close approach to learn as much as possible about 2023 DZ2 in a short time period - good practice for #PlanetaryDefense in the future if a potential asteroid threat were ever discovered," the agency wrote in a second tweet.
According to EarthSky, scientists for a time believed the new asteroid presented a possible risk of colliding with Earth during a future orbit, and suggested that 2023 DZ2 could impact Earth on March 27, 2026. However, as of Tuesday this week, officials removed the asteroid from the Sentry risk table, a monitoring system developed at the turn of the century to keep a running catalog of space objects that hold any risk of colliding with Earth over at least the next 100 years.
Another asteroid, which scientists also discovered in February and named 2023 DW, potentially carries a larger risk of impacting Earth in the relatively foreseeable future. The asteroid was first spotted on Feb. 26, according to the European Space Agency, which added the rock to its own Risk List and ranked it at No. 1. The ESA predicts that the asteroid has a 1 in 607 chance of impacting Earth, and estimates that the collision could occur as early as Valentine's Day 2046, although it could also occur on subsequent Valentine's Days between 2047 and 2051.
2023 DW has a Torino Scale ranking of 1, meaning that it is not anticipated to pose "unusual level of danger." Researchers have said that its diameter is likely about equal to that of an Olympic pool, although the degree of uncertainty about its true size "could be large."
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