A small asteroid that scientists once thought had the potential to pass extremely close to Earth will safely zip by our humble blue planet on Tuesday. Or Thursday. Or at some point this week. It will fly by 3 million miles away — or 15,000.
In fact, this asteroid — nicknamed “B2Bomber” for its size — has proved difficult to nail down.
NASA’s most recent prediction was that the space rock will pass Earth on Tuesday around 3 million away, though the forecast was originally much more uncertain. As recently as February, the flyby prediction for the asteroid, officially named 2013 TX68, had been calculated for March 5, and scientists were unsure of the distance. At that point, it could have been as far as 9 million miles, or as close as 11,000.
It’s true that 11,000 miles is certainly a long way, the distance between Earth and the moon is only about 239,000 miles.
Though NASA is more certain that it will pass Earth on Tuesday, other astronomers believe it could be as late as Thursday. The range of possibilities in timing and distance is so wide because the asteroid was only recently discovered in 2013, at which point scientists only had three days to track it before it passed into daytime sky, preventing any more orbit analysis.
What we seem to know for sure, though, is that this asteroid does not pose a threat of impact.
“There is no concern whatsoever regarding this asteroid – unless you were interested in seeing it with a telescope,” said Paul Chodas, manager of the Near-Earth Object office at JPL, who explained that chances of seeing 2013 TX68 are near nil, since it is so dim.
Slooh.com will attempt to track the asteroid on Thursday starting at midnight Eastern Time (9 p.m. PST, Wednesday) in a livesteam broadcast from the Canary Islands Observatory. The program will feature discussions led by Slooh astronomer Eric Edelman and astronomer Mark Boslough.
New discoveries of near-Earth objects occur frequently. To date, nearly 14,000 such objects have been discovered, according to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.
Nearly 400 new objects have been found that will pass by Earth in 2016, and over 30 were just discovered in early March. Aside from 2013 TX68, there will be two asteroid close approaches on Tuesday: 2016 EB27 and 2016ER1, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There will be 13 more close approaches of other asteroid this week.
Asteroid 2013 TX68 was discovered Oct. 6, 2013 by the Catalina Sky Survey.
The Near-Earth Object center confirms that 2013 TX68 cannot impact Earth over the next century, so the asteroid was officially removed from NASA’s Sentry Risk list in February. The next close approach by this body will be Sept. 18, 2056 and it will visit on Oct. 16, 2086, with a similar distance from Earth as the 2016 cosmic tour. There are currently 611 near-Earth asteroids on NASA’s Sentry Risk Table.
Asteroid 2013 TX68 is an Apollo-class asteroid, estimated to be about 100 feet in diameter – as asteroid about one-third larger than the rocky chunk that zipped through the heavens on Feb. 15, 2013 over Chelyabinsk, Russia, said the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In the impossible event that 2013 TX68 actually did get close enough to enter our home planet’s atmosphere, it would likely produce boom with about twice the energy of Chelyabinsk asteroid.
Angela Fritz contributed to this report.