A sneaky space rock that managed to avoid detection despite its proximity to Earth was discovered on Monday and is set to skim past Earth tomorrow.
Don’t worry, we’re perfectly safe but the thrill of watching near-Earth asteroids whizz by never gets old so you can watch it right here thanks to the Virtual Telescope Project’s (VTP) live stream.
Discovered by the Pan-STARRS astronomical survey in Hawai’i on July 4, asteroid 2022 NF is approximately 7 meters (23 feet) across – slightly taller than a tall adult giraffe for those who find these conversions helpful – though it could be up to 12 meters (40 feet or two average giraffes, top to toe).
At its closest, NF will come within around 89,300 kilometers (55,500 miles) of Earth, which is extremely close in NASA's terms, but still only about 23 percent of the average Moon-Earth distance on July 7.
You may not think spying a rock the size of just one measly giraffe is very impressive, after all, NASA spots over 1,500 new near-Earth objects every year, but the tiny ones actually demonstrate just how good near-Earth object observatories have gotten in the last few years.
According to NASA's Center for Near-Earth Objects Studies (CNEOS), 90 percent of near-Earth objects over 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) (the ones we should be more concerned about) are already being tracked, so the focus now is on tracking all the ones over 140 meters (460 feet). Tracking an asteroid under 10 meters (33 feet) is pretty good going.
The VTP's live stream will start at 5 pm ET today (9 pm UTC tonight) and the space rock will appear as a bright little speck whizzing through the stars.
A lot of time and effort goes into tracking space rocks as the more we know, the better we can prepare should a Don't Look Up scenario await us. It was only last week a "potentially hazardous" asteroid thought to be on a collision course with Earth in 2052 got its threat downgraded and removed from the world's at-risk lists thanks to some further observations.
Just to be clear, in case anyone is worried, there are no known objects with trajectories that take out Earth currently, but it's best to be prepared. As NASA puts it: "Planetary defense is finding asteroids before they find us."