But the experts at NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies say we’re in no danger.
The asteroid will pass within 3,590,000 miles of Earth. That’s 15 times the distance from Earth to the moon, according to NASA.
The Minor Planet Center has classified 2002 PZ39 as a “Potentially Hazardous Asteroid,” according to NASA. That’s true of any object larger than 492 feet that approaches Earth within 4.6 million miles. But based on the asteroid’s trajectory, it shouldn’t come any closer than expected.
A few more asteroids, within the house to airplane-sized range, will also pass by Earth on Sunday and Monday, with the closest one coming within 1.4 million miles of Earth on Monday.
Coincidentally, Saturday marks the seventh anniversary since an asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013. It exploded in the air, releasing 20 to 30 times more energy than that of the first atomic bombs and generating brightness greater than the sun. It damaged more than 7,000 buildings and injured more than 1,000 people. The shock wave broke windows 58 miles away.
In addition to tracking Near-Earth Objects that could pose a threat, NASA and other agencies currently have missions underway to study near-Earth asteroids and potentially mitigate the danger of a collision.
Knowing the size and orbit of an asteroid is the main battle, as this enables prediction Near-Earth Objects.
“It’s an exciting time for planetary defense because we are on the verge of an absolute flood of new observations that will allow us to track 10 times more asteroids than we’ve ever tracked before,” Lu said. “In about two years, the LSST will turn on, and its discovery rate will be more than all the rest of the telescopes combined. In the first year, it will find tens of thousands of asteroids and be able to track them.”
Missions like NASA’s OSIRIS-REx and Japan’s Hayabusa2 are exploring asteroids in our solar system and aim to return samples to Earth in the coming years. The Near-Earth Object Camera, called NEOCam, is characterizing near-Earth objects.
DART will crash into a moonlet of near-Earth asteroid Didymos, that is comparable in size to an asteroid that could pose a threat.