NASA scientists announced that an asteroid will be swinging by Earth next month, possibly coming within 11,000 miles of the planet. If you think 11,000 miles doesn't sound that impressive, that translates to 266,422 Astrodomes (stacked), 101,894 San Jacinto Monuments, 57,964 Chase Towers or 289 stretched-out Loop 610s.
When it was first spotted as it made its inaugural fly by the planet in 2013, the asteroid was rather prosaically dubbed 2013 TX68. On March 5 it is slated to pass by Earth once more, and depending on the trajectory it takes, the asteroid could either nod at the planet from about 9 million miles away or come in for a close-up appearance at about 11,000 miles away. It's hard to predict which way this asteroid will veer since NASA scientists haven't been tracking it that long, relatively speaking. Scientists at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California are only certain that there's no chance the asteroid will actually hit us this time around.
During the trip past Earth this March, the asteroid probably won't be visible. Even NASA scientists equipped with their fancy telescopes are unsure if they'll be able to see it. "This asteroid's orbit is quite uncertain, and it will be hard to predict where to look for it," Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near Earth Orbit Studies, said. "There is a chance that the asteroid will be picked up by our asteroid search telescopes when it safely flies past us next month, providing us with data to more precisely define its orbit around the sun."
However, that won't be the end of 2013 TX68. While it's not an impressive bit of flying space rock, measuring only about 100 feet across, this asteroid is nothing if not persistent. After it darts back off into the galaxy, NASA scientists say, the asteroid will be back on September 28, 2017. And on this third trip, the asteroid might actually hit us, according to a NASA release.
Don't start calling Bruce Willis or putting together your asteroid-impact survival kits just yet: The odds of actual impact in 2017 are about 1 in 250 million, according to NASA.
That won't be the last time 2013 TX68 zooms by — the asteroid is expected to conduct more flybys in 2046 and 2097, with slim-but-existing odds of smacking into Earth each time.
There's one thing to keep in mind about 2013 TX68: Don't judge the 100-foot-wide asteroid by its size alone. After all, the asteroid that broke the atmosphere in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 was only 65 feet wide. If an asteroid the size of 2013 TX68 were to enter Earth's atmosphere, it would likely produce an air burst with about twice the energy of the Chelyabinsk event, according to NASA.
That's nothing to sniff at. After all, when the Chelyabinsk asteroid turned into a meteor over Russia, its light was brighter than that of the sun. That asteroid exploded about 18 miles above the ground, releasing more than 20 times the amount of energy of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. If 2013 TX68 ever actually smacks into us, we're going to feel it.
Luckily, we don't have to worry about that this time around. The asteroid may get a little too close for comfort — in the grand scheme of the universe, 11,000 miles is pretty damn close — but that's about all it will do. For now.
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