An asteroid the size of New York City’s Statue of Liberty is expected to buzz by Earth Tuesday, and this time, scientists are ready and waiting.
At its closest point, the asteroid – called 2010 WC9 – will be roughly 126,000 miles from earth, about half the distance between Earth and the moon at approximately 6:05 ET, according to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).
The estimated diameter of the asteroid ranges from 197 to 427 feet, making this “pass one of the closest approaches ever observed of an asteroid of this size,” EarthSky reports.
That’s nothing compared to asteroids that make up the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, which can measure to about 580 miles across, NASA explains on its website. Those asteroids, however, pose no threat to Earth.
The Catalina Sky Survey (CSS), a space project backed by NASA’s Near Earth Object Observation Program (NEOO), was first to spot the asteroid back in November 2010. However, Daniel Bamberger with London’s Northolt Branch Observatories, notes the asteroid was lost for 8 years.
“Discovered at Catalina Sky Survey in November 2010, it was subsequently lost, until its rediscovery on May 8th, 2018. 2010 WC9 will make a particularly close approach on May 15th, at a distance of 203,000 km from Earth (0.00136 AU, about half the distance to the Moon). It is currently visible at +15 mag and brightening rapidly,” he wrote on Facebook early Monday.
If you want to catch the passage in action, CSS suggests checking out NBO’s live stream.
“Astronomy is an outdoor sport. Fingers crossed that the weather improves! If it doesn’t improve then we will make a post with old images, and provide alternatives where you might see live views of 2010 WC9 at later times,” NBO explained in a Facebook post, adding that they would start posting live images Monday night.
The asteroid won’t be visible with the naked eye, but you will likely be able to view the bright spot with a small telescope, Bamberger says. But you better be ready – the asteroid is quick: it speeds through space at 28,655 miles per hour, EarthSky reports.
This is the second large asteroid to make a close approach to Earth in recent months.
An asteroid the size of a football field flew by Earth in April. The 2018 GE3 asteroid was discovered just one day before it skimmed past Earth in what scientists called a “surprise” flyby.
“There are many close approaches from asteroids, [but] most are very small. Only very few objects of [this] size have ever been seen coming closer than the Moon,” NBO astronomer Guy Wells told Newsweek.
It’s unlikely these asteroids will cause harm. Due to their speed, the majority break down due to “friction with the air” as soon as they enter Earth’s atmosphere, EarthSky explains. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important to track their activity.
“There are lots of asteroids and comets in our solar system and it’s impossible to predict the trajectories of all of these objects, but we need to try,” University of Saskatchewan astronomy professor Daryl Janzen said in a statement online. “Although the probability is low, it’s important to discover as many NEOs as we can, so that if one does enter into a collision course with Earth, we can try to do something about it.”