This Friday, May 27, asteroid 7335 (1989 JA) – the largest asteroid of the year, according to NASA – is set to fly past Earth. This stony space rock is big enough to be considered a continent killer. Or to put it in animal terms we can all understand, roughly the size of 405-782 adult female Komodo dragons (end to end) wide.
The size of an asteroid is estimated from its albedo (how much light it reflects), measuring its brightness and the reflective properties of its surface, which is why estimates can vary. The European Space Agency has an estimation of 932 meters ( 0.57 miles) for 1989 JA, while NASA's Center for Near-Earth Objects says 1.8 kilometers (1. 1 miles).
What they both agree on, however, is the asteroid is on the list of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects given that it's close to our planet, is pretty big, and is moving 20 times faster than a speeding bullet. But we don’t need to worry about it this week, as it will pass us by over 4 million kilometers (2.5 million miles), or 10 times the distance from us to the Moon.
The asteroid, which is traveling at 76,000 km/h (47,200 mph), has been visible with a good telescope from both hemispheres, but its closest passage on May 27 will favor the southern sky.
Some people have already been tracking it. Telescope company Unistellar is running a citizen science campaign called Planetary Defense and has had people with their telescopes track the asteroid as it moves closer and closer to our planet.
They have so far collected 40 observations from 24 people from New Zealand, the US, Canada, France, Austria, and Italy. More observations are taking place in Australia, the Netherlands, and other European countries as the asteroid reaches its closest point to Earth. They hope they'll be able to work out how fast the asteroid is rotating based on these observations.
"It’s been really exciting to work with scientists and other hobbyists like myself from all over the world to help protect our planet, further our understanding of exoplanets, and more," citizen scientist Ethan Teng, who is part of Unistellar's Planetary Defense campaign, told IFLScience.
If you don’t have a telescope or the weather near you doesn't allow you to check it out for yourself (*shakes fist at British weather*), worry not. The team at the Virtual Telescope Project and Telescope Live have got you covered with two live streams showing the asteroid flying by us on May 26 at 7 pm ET and on May 27 at 9 am ET.