Hard hats at the ready – because an asteroid is going to fly past Earth on March 5, 2016, and while there’s essentially no chance of it hitting us, it will come remarkably close to our planet.
Asteroid 2013 TX68 will swing by at a distance of between 14 million kilometers (9 million miles) and 17,000 kilometers (11,000 miles) – which is lower than the orbit of geostationary satellites. It’s pretty unlikely it’ll hit anything in orbit as it sails by, though.
The asteroid has only been tracked for a few years, which is why there is such a large range of uncertainty in the distance from Earth it will fly past, as its exact orbital parameters aren’t known. Nonetheless, astronomers have been able to essentially rule out the chance of an impact, either now or on future flybys.
When the asteroid swings back around on September 28, 2017, it will have a one in 250 million chance of hitting us, while further flybys in 2046 and 2097 have even lower chances of an impact. "The possibilities of collision on any of the three future flyby dates are far too small to be of any real concern," said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS) in California, in a statement. "I fully expect any future observations to reduce the probability even more."
Shown are the possible points of closest approach for the asteroid. NASA/JPL-Caltech
The asteroid is about twice the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia in February 2013, measuring roughly 30 meters (100 feet) in diameter. If it did somehow enter the atmosphere, NASA said it would produce an airburst of about twice the energy as Chelyabinsk, which smashed windows and injured hundreds in Russia.
While we’re safe on this occasion, this asteroid does highlight the growing need for us to track near-Earth objects, and to have suitable defenses ready in case one is on a collision course. NASA recently set up a new asteroid defense office to better track hazardous asteroids, and there are a number of plans in the works – some using nuclear explosions – to deflect an asteroid, if we ever need to.
For now though, you can rest easy.