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A 19-foot asteroid will come ‘very close’ to Earth tonight, NASA says

This diagram made available by NASA shows the estimated trajectory of asteroid 2023 BU, in red, affected by the Earth’s gravity; the orbit of geosynchronous satellites, in green; and the orbit of the moon, in light gray. (AP)
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An asteroid the size of a delivery truck will narrowly pass by the Earth on Thursday — so close in fact that the encounter is expected to be one of the closest approaches by a near-Earth object on record, according to NASA.

The asteroid, which has been named 2023 BU, will travel just 2,200 miles (about 3,500 kilometers) above the planet’s surface, darting over the southern tip of South America at around 4:27 p.m. Pacific time, NASA estimated Wednesday.

NASA was quick to reassure people that the asteroid, which is estimated at between 11 feet (about 3.5 meters) and 28 feet (8.5 meters) across, would not end life as we know it on our planet.

“There is no risk of the asteroid impacting Earth,” NASA said, noting that even if it did, the small asteroid “would turn into a fireball and largely disintegrate harmlessly in the atmosphere.” The bigger pieces, scientists say, would then likely rain down as meteorites.

Amateur astronomer Gennadiy Borisov discovered the asteroid on Saturday from his observatory in Nauchnyi, Crimea, NASA said. In the days that followed, other astronomers also observed the asteroid, helping to refine the asteroid’s trajectory.

The asteroid, which is not very bright because of its small size, may be visible Thursday to those with a telescope, but for those who are not seasoned astronomers, the Virtual Telescope Project will be running a live feed of the close shave.

Jan. 26 appears to be an important date in the asteroid calendar. Another asteroid — this one the size of an airplane — is also expected to approach Earth on Thursday, based on NASA projections.

Luckily, this 170-foot asteroid, known as 2020 BZ14, will be a lot farther away as it passes Earth — 2,100,000 miles.

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If you’re still feeling worried about asteroids, there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news is that NASA estimates that it is only able to track about 40 percent of potentially hazardous asteroids large enough to impact Earth — so there may be asteroids we don’t see coming.

The good news is that NASA is capable of deflecting asteroids on track to collide with Earth — as long as it knows about them in time. In September, it conducted a mission that altered the orbit of an asteroid for the first time in history, in an exercise designed to test its “planetary defense” capabilities.

Christian Davenport contributed to this report.