NASA asteroid trackers have detected a large space rock scraping past our planet on the unlucky date of Friday the 13th – but was there any risk of the asteroid slamming into Earth?
The NASA-tracked asteroid skimmed the Earth in the afternoon hours of Friday, December 13. The close brush came on a date superstitious people consider to be incredibly unlucky. The asteroid, dubbed 2019 XO1, closed in on our planet today around 1.25pm GMT (8.25am EST).
NASA’s trackers have dubbed the flyby an “Earth close approach” made by a “Near-Earth Object” or NEO.
NEOs are all asteroids and comets that race around the Sun in the inner confines of the solar system.
Occasionally, an asteroid like XO1 will come close enough to ping on NASA’s radars.
The US space agency said: “Since their orbital paths often cross that of the Earth, collisions with near-Earth objects have occurred in the past and we should remain alert to the possibility of future close Earth approaches.
“It seems prudent to mount efforts to discover and study these objects, to characterise their sizes, compositions and structures and to keep an eye upon their future trajectories.”
Asteroid XO1 is estimated to measure somewhere in the range of 108.3ft to 242.8ft (33m to 74m) across.
An asteroid this big would survive the descent through the atmosphere and slam into the ground with brute force.
At the upper end of NASA’s estimate, Asteroid XO1 is comparable in width to the wingspan of a Boeing 747.
The asteroid is also almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty in New York, US.
At the lower end of NASA’s estimate, the asteroid stands 52ft (16m) shorter than the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.
NASA said: “If a rocky meteoroid larger than 25 meters but smaller than one kilometre – a little more than half-a-mile – were to hit Earth, it would likely cause local damage to the impact area.
“We believe anything larger than one to two kilometres – one kilometre is a little more than one-half mile – could have worldwide effects.”
Today, Asteroid XO1 approached the planet at breakneck speeds of about 7.93km per second.
In other words, the asteroid rapidly closed-in on Earth at speeds of about 17,739mph (28,548km/h).
But did NASA expect the asteroid to veer off-course and slam into our planet at these speeds today?
Even at its closest approach, Asteroid XO1 was expected to miss Earth by a safe margin of about 0.02033 astronomical units.
One astronomical unit measures the distance between the Earth and the Sun – about 93 million miles (149.6 million km).
Asteroid XO1 slashed this down to just 1.88 million miles (3.04 million km).
NASA said: “As they orbit the Sun, Near-Earth Objects can occasionally approach close to Earth.
“Note that a ‘close’ passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometres.”
After today’s flyby, the asteroid will pay a visit to the planet Mercury.
Asteroid XO1 will then visit Earth’s corner of space again on December 22, 2022.
Collisions with near-Earth objects have occurred in the past