Space

Asteroid Could Fly Within Earth's Satellites Next Week

March 2, 2016 | by Jonathan O'Callaghan

Photo credit: Geostationary satellites orbit at about 35,000 kilometers (22,000 miles). Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock

First things first: There’s no cause for alarm. Asteroid TX68 poses no threat to Earth at the moment. But this asteroid, due to fly past Earth on March 8, is rather interesting.

That’s because, while there is huge uncertainty in how close it will fly past, it might come as close as 24,000 kilometers (15,000 miles). This would be within the orbit of geostationary satellites, which orbit at 35,000 kilometers (22,000 miles).

As mentioned, there is a large amount of uncertainty, though. While that’s the closest approach, it may pass anywhere between there and several million kilometers. NASA's latest estimate suggests it will fly past at 5 million kilometers (3 million miles). We won’t know for certain until after the asteroid has passed, if we get a chance to observe it.

“2013 TX68 is estimated to be about 100 feet [30 meters] in diameter,” said Cornell University Ph.D. student Sean Marshall, who works on observations of near-Earth asteroids, in a statement. “Its closest approach could be within Earth’s ‘ring’ of geostationary satellites, or it could be 40 times the distance to the Moon – or anywhere in between.”

The chances of the asteroid actually hitting anything are slim to none, though. Space is vast, so don’t expect any satellites to get knocked out any time soon. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty neat event. This isn’t the first time an asteroid has come this close – without actually hitting us, of course – but with more modern telescopes, we should hopefully get a good chance to take a look at the asteroid.

“Should this asteroid come closer than the geostationary satellites, it would be a rare occurrence – that only happens about once per decade for large asteroids,” added Marshall. “What we know for sure is that it will not collide with Earth this month, so do not panic.”

The asteroid will fly past us again on September 28, 2017, with a one in 250 million chance of hitting us. Further flybys in 2046 and 2097 have similarly low probabilities. But while these are low, they do highlight the importance of tracking asteroids to ensure we won’t be hit, something that will be highlighted by the upcoming Asteroid Day on June 30, 2016.

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