After traveling 1.2 million miles past Earth next Tuesday, a stony asteroid with a diameter greater than the world's tallest building won’t come that close again for the next two centuries.
How close is 1.2 million miles, anyway? According to EarthSky, it is equal to about 5.1 times the Earth-moon distance, a “very safe,” distance for an asteroid.
Even so, the 3,280-feet space object – technically known as (7482) 1994 PC1 – is classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid since it travels relatively close to Earth. Scientists first identified it in 1994. Its diameter is longer than the world's tallest building, the 2,717-feet Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
While (7482) 1994 PC1 flies “relatively” close to Earth, other space objects have made it closer to our planet in recent memory. For example, the refrigerator-sized Asteroid 2021 UA1 became the third-closest fly-by object that didn't end in an impact in October of last year, according to Cnet. Around nine years ago, a meteorite exploded over a Russian town, said the outlet.
On New Year’s Day, it’s possible that another meteorite exploded over Pittsburgh.
According to NASA, the Earth gets hit by asteroids all of the time, but most of these objects are small and burn up in our atmosphere without causing damage. We can sometimes see these as shooting stars. The asteroid swinging near Earth next week won’t come too close, but asteroids that large do collide with the planet every 600,000 years or so.
An asteroid even larger than (7482) 1994 PC1 swept past Earth in 2017. That steroid – 3122 Florence (1981 ET3) – is estimated to be between 2.5 miles and 5.5 miles wide. It is expected to pass by Earth again in 2057.
Sky-gazers will be able to see (7482) 1994 PC1 as it speeds by our planet Tuesday with nothing more than a small backyard telescope. It will shine at around magnitude 10 and should be closest to Earth at 4:51 p.m. EST, traveling at 43,754 miles per hour relative to Earth.
“The considerable speed will enable amateur astronomers to spot the fast asteroid,” said EarthSky. “It will appear as a point of light, similar to a star, passing in front of background stars over the course of the evening.”