A Football Pitch-Sized Asteroid Will Skim Past Earth Tonight

It will be about the size of a football pitch or the length of the Statue of Liberty. sdecoret/Shutterstock

Heads up, everyone! A football pitch-sized asteroid will narrowly whizz past Earth on the night of Tuesday, May 15, 2018.

The asteroid, catchily named Asteroid 2010 WC9, will safely pass Earth at a distance of approximately 203,450 kilometers (126,419 miles), as reported by Earth Sky. That’s just half of the distance between the Earth and the Moon, making it one of the closest approaches of an asteroid this size the world has ever observed.

The object is believed to be somewhere between 60 and 130 meters (197 and 427 feet) in length, so it will be around the size of a football pitch or the length of the Statue of Liberty.

The asteroid will zip past Earth at a speed of approximately 46,100 kilometers (28,650 miles) per hour and make its closest approach to Earth at 6.05pm EDT (10.05pm GMT). However, just because this is a relatively close approach, astronomers are saying you should not expect to see 2010 WC9 with the naked eye.

Close call: The orbit of asteroid 2010 WC9 (white-gray) and orbit of Earth (light blue). NASA Jet Propulsion Lab

Asteroid 2010 WC9 was actually lost by astronomers for a number of years. When it was first discovered in late 2010, astronomers didn’t have enough observations to predict its orbit as it was too faint to see. Just last week, astronomers picked up on an unnamed asteroid (or so they thought). Further work showed that the space rock was actually asteroid 2010 WC9.

Remarkably, losing track of small near-Earth objects such as this is remarkably common. As highlighted in a brand new study, it’s thought as many as 900 have been observed once then never seen again in other surveys of the night sky. For a little bit of context, throw your mind back to the now-notorious Chelyabinsk Meteor that exploded over a Russian city on the morning of February 15, 2013, which no astronomers expected.

While you shouldn’t expect the same levels of damage caused by this fiendish event in Russia, the story of asteroid 2010 WC9 serves as a good reminder to astronomers to keep on their toes.

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