An asteroid the size of a stadium is set to pass ‘relatively close’ to Earth on Saturday.
If there was any catastrophic event we were missing in 2020, it’s a giant asteroid hurtling towards us.
NASA has advised that while the 335-metre mass is near enough to make their ‘close approach’ list, it will still miss us by a landslide – about 5.1 million kilometres to be exact.
The asteroid, named 2002 NN4 (the runner-up in Elon Musk and Grimes’ baby name list), is said to be bigger than 90 per cent of asteroids and could have devastating effects if it entered Earth’s orbit.
But we can breathe a sigh of relief, because despite travelling at more than 32,000 kilometres per hour, 2002 NN4 will still be more than 13 times further away from us than the Moon.
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@NASAWebb will study the ‘building blocks’ of our solar system — asteroids. Millions of asteroids roam our solar system. Many are clustered between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt while another group, known as Trojans, both lead and follow Jupiter. Webb will add many new observations to the growing body of research about asteroids, and will help us learn more about the origins and makeup of asteroids, providing clues to the history of how planets moved around in the early solar system. Pictured: Ceres is a dwarf planet in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. After launching in 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope will help researchers discover more about the formation of the solar system by observing objects like Ceres in the main asteroid belt with its powerful infrared capability. Credits: NASA Visualization Technology Applications and Development (VTAD)
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Ian J. O’Neill, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the asteroid was too far away to worry.
“In short, 2002 NN4 is a very well-known asteroid with a known orbit that will pass Earth at a (very) safe distance” Dr O’Neill said.
Along with 2002 NN4, there are another four asteroids on their way over, but they are significantly smaller.
One is roughly the size of a house while the remaining three are the size of an aeroplane.
NASA has also blessed star-gazers with an Asteroid Watch Widget, which tracks asteroids and comets as they approach Earth.
Users will be able to find out the date of the closest approach, name and size of the asteroid and its distance from Earth.
But, what if?
Despite fitting in well with the chaos this year has brought, 2002 NN4 will be so far away sky-gazers will still need a telescope to see it.
But what would happen if it came any closer?
Scientists from all over the world met in 2019 to discuss how to respond if a disastrously large asteroid actually was headed for Earth.
Dr Lori Glaze, director of planetary science at NASA, said that literally saving the world wouldn’t be too hard.
“All we have to do is change its speed a little faster or a little slower so that when it crosses Earth’s orbit, it crosses either in front of us or behind us,” Dr Glaze said.