Earth will experience a close call on Sunday, as an asteroid discovered only a few days ago is expected to safely pass very close by. The space rock will zip by our planet approximately 25,000 miles above our heads — one tenth the distance between here and the moon.
The asteroid, which is approximately 60 feet in diameter, will pass closest to Earth on Sunday at 2:18 p.m. ET. Based on current calculations, astronomers suspect it will be over New Zealand at the time. While the asteroid will be too small to see with the naked eye, NASA says it might be possible for sky watchers to catch a glimpse with small telescopes.
While 2014 RC will pass extremely close to the orbiting height of our planet’s geosynchronous satellites, which are parked at a height of 22,000 miles, NASA says it does not pose any threat to the satellites because of its path below Earth and the satellite orbit ring.
The Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Ariz., discovered this small asteroid on Sunday night. It was then confirmed the next night by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.
While NASA makes a point to monitor asteroids that have the potential to enter Earth’s “air space,” sometimes the smaller asteroids, such as this one, aren’t discovered until they’re very close to Earth. Of course, the bigger the object, the easier it is to spot.
But as we have written before, the idea that there are objects hurtling their way toward Earth that scientists have not yet discovered is mildly disconcerting. In 2013, Earth was buzzed by an asteroid approximately 100 feet wide, DA14, which passed just 17,500 miles above our planet. The asteroid was discovered just a year before its close encounter with Earth. It was the closest documented encounter of an asteroid that large.
Capital Weather Gang contributor Steve Tracton wrote then that it was a wake up call to the surprises possible:
For the foreseeable future, then, Earth will continue to reside in a cosmic shooting gallery with an enormous number of currently unknown objects, some of which may have a direct bead on us without our knowing. While it is probably much more unlikely than likely, a potentially disastrous collision with an asteroid of at least the dimensions comparable to DA14 could occur anytime possibly with little or no warning in our lifetimes.
Other astronomic close calls: