MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
An asteroid “larger than usual” is scheduled to make a close approach and pass Earth next week, on December 11.
It is called 4,660 Nereus, and is a relatively frequent visitor to near-Earth space, with a diameter of 330 meters. This is slightly smaller than the height of the Empire State Building.
Despite the sensational headlines, the 4,660 Nereus will reach a safe distance of 3.93 million km – just over 10 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.
NASA / JPL
Given its size and distance from Earth, 4,660 Nereus has been classified as a potentially dangerous object. This classification includes any asteroid that will pass within 7.48 million km of Earth’s orbit, and its width is greater than about 140 meters.
There are many reasons to track such space rocks, including making sure they don’t deviate from their known orbits to a more dangerous path on Earth, and monitoring groups of asteroids to maintain awareness of what’s moving through near-Earth space.
The 4660 Nereus was first discovered in 1982, and it’s special – not because it’s dangerous, but because it moves close to Earth with relative frequency. Its 1.82-year orbit around the Sun gets closer to us every 10 years or so, although the term “close” is still a “safe distance” from a space perspective.
For this reason, the asteroid has been the target of asteroid missions, such as Hayabusa.
The approach of 4,660 Nereus next week will be the closest in decades. Its next close visit will be on February 14, 2060, as it moves at a distance of approximately 1.2 million kilometers (more than three times the distance between the Earth and the Moon).
While the asteroid does not pose any threat, it is best to be prepared, because we know that asteroids have greatly affected Earth in the past.
And space agencies are working on it. Just last week, a NASA spacecraft was launched on a mission called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, to attempt a collision with an asteroid to derail it. This meeting is scheduled to take place in September next year.
Source: Science Alert