NASA has warned that an asteroid bigger than the London Eye is heading towards Earth. The asteroid, which has the scientific name 2013 WV44, is thought to be bigger than 10 buses lined up end to end. It will pass by Earth on Wednesday around 4 am EST. At 7.4 miles per second, it will be going about 34 times faster than the speed of sound.
Even though the asteroid is moving towards Earth, it is expected to stay at least 0.02334 astronomical units away, which is about 2.1 million miles. Even though this is about nine times farther than the Moon, NASA is keeping a close eye on the asteroid because it is a near-Earth object (NEO).
Astronomers have called the asteroid WV44 “potentially hazardous” because it will pass within about 7.5 million kilometers of our world. But it’s important to remember that this distance is almost 19 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. This means that the asteroid is not a threat to life on Earth.
NASA says that NEOs are comets and asteroids whose paths have been changed by the gravity of nearby planets so that they can pass close to Earth.
“Most comets are made of water ice with dust trapped in it. They formed in the cold outer solar system, while most rocky asteroids formed in the warmer inner solar system between Mars and Jupiter’s orbits.
Scientists are mostly interested in comets and asteroids because they are mostly unchanged leftovers from when the solar system was made 4.6 billion years ago.
A Near-Earth Object (NEO) is an object that comes within 1.3 astronomical units (AU) of the sun and within 0.3 AU (27.8 million miles) of Earth’s orbit.
Even though asteroid 2013 WV44 was 2.1 million miles away during its close approach, this is still thought to be close by astronomical standards.
NASA puts WV44 on its online list of upcoming close approaches, which is a list of things that are getting closer and closer to Earth.
Safe, But NASA Still Alert
“It’s not a potentially hazardous asteroid, but it’s pretty big,” said Japanese astronomer Atsuo Asami on Twitter.
NASA says that there are now 32,254 known NEAs in our solar system. This is a big jump from last October when only 30,000 were known. It is thought that more than 10,000 have a diameter of more than 460 feet (140 meters), and nearly 1,000 have a diameter of more than 3,280 feet (1 kilometer).
These numbers show how important it is to keep track of these things in space. The first NEA to be found was called 433 Eros, and it has a diameter of about 10.4 miles (16.8 km).
On August 13, 1898, German scientist Carl Gustav Witt was at the Berlin Observatory when he saw NEA 433 Eros for the first time. It has a clear, long shape and is mostly made of rock. Its orbit gets it close to Earth. It is about 13.5 million miles away, which is 57 times farther than the distance between Earth and the Moon.
The biggest known NEA is called 1036 Ganymed, which is not to be confused with the same-named Moon of Jupiter. This NEA is about 22 miles (35 kilometers) across.
NASA has been keeping a close eye on the paths of all near-Earth objects (NEOs) and will continue to do so until the end of the century. Based on what they are still learning, it looks like NEOs will not likely cause any major Earth disasters for at least the next 100 years.