Get ready for the doomsday headlines, because next Wednesday, April 19, an unusually large asteroid is going to fly past Earth, the biggest to do so in 13 years.
The asteroid is called 2014 JO25, and it was discovered in May 2014 by astronomers using the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona. It measures a whopping 650 meters (2,000 feet) across, big enough to cause considerable damage if it hit Earth – although still 20 times smaller than the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs.
But, fear not. The asteroid will fly past at a distance of 1.8 million kilometers (1.1 million miles), which is about 4.6 times the distance from Earth to the Moon. While it’s the closest approach for this asteroid in 400 years, and the closest it’ll be for at least 500 years, there’s essentially no possibility it will hit our planet.
However, this is a rare close approach for an asteroid of this size. While small asteroids pass at this distance several times every week, the last known asteroid of this size or larger to pass this close was the 5-kilometer-wide (3.1-mile-wide) asteroid Toutatis in September 2004.
“Although there is no possibility for the asteroid to collide with our planet, this will be a very close approach for an asteroid of this size,” NASA said in a statement. The next large asteroid to come close will be the 800-meter-wide (2,600-foot-wide) 1999 AN10 in 2027, passing one lunar distance (380,000 kilometers or 236,000 miles) away.
An animation of the flyby on Wednesday, April 19
Fortunately, we know of no large asteroids that have a chance of hitting Earth in the foreseeable future. This table from NASA has a handy list of the most probable impacts. The most likely is 2017 FN128, 520 meters (1,710 feet) across, which has a 0.0000023 percent chance of hitting us between 2054 and 2116.
That doesn’t mean we should rest easy. Many asteroids remain untracked, and the odds are we’re going to be faced with a civilization-ending asteroid at some point in the next few millennia.
Initiatives like Asteroid Day aim to raise awareness of the threat of asteroids, while missions like the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) might look at how to deflect an incoming asteroid, although that mission is currently up in air.
For the time being, though, there’s not much to worry about. Since this asteroid is extremely bright, about twice as reflective as the surface of the Moon, astronomers will at least be studying it as it flies past to learn more about it.