It’s been a while, but we’ve got another asteroid coming our way that’s going to swing past our planet next week. Hooray!
The asteroid called 2016 NF23 will fly past our planet on Wednesday, August 29 at a distance of about 5 million kilometers (3 million miles). That’s kind of close, but still about 13 times further than the Moon. A lot of more recent asteroids have come much closer.
Then there’s the size, which has been compared to everything from the Great Pyramid of Giza to the London Eye or two Boeing 747s around the web. For the rest of us, it’s estimated to be anywhere from 70 to 160 meters (230 to 525 feet) across.
This asteroid takes about 240 days to orbit the Sun, making a closest approach of about 40 percent as close as Earth, which is within the orbit of Mercury. That’s quite a short orbit, so the asteroid makes frequent flybys of Mercury, Venus, and Earth.
As always, an approaching asteroid has garnered all sorts of alarming headlines and quotes. My favorite was probably the comparison that it’s moving “about 15 times faster than the 1,354mph the retired Concorde travelled at.” Which is just brilliant really.
Then there’s also the issue of what NASA deems a “potentially hazardous asteroid” (PHA). Basically, NASA deems anything that comes closer than 7.5 million kilometers (4.6 million miles), and bigger than 140 meters (500 feet), as a PHA. No such object is known to be on a collision course with Earth.
So labeling 2016 NF23 is really not a big deal. What’s more, looking far into the future with my magic eye (and also this NASA page), its closest approach between now and 2199 comes in September 2039, when it’ll pass 2 million kilometers (1.3 million miles) from our planet. Which is not very close at all.
On the patented Jonathan O’Callaghan Scale of how interesting this asteroid is, I’d rate this one at a solid “gray”. For starters, it’s not that big (although big enough to wipe out a city or two), it’s not flying that close, and its future orbits are pretty uninteresting.
Now, if you really want to be worried about an asteroid, consider 99942 Apophis. On April 13, 2029, that will fly just 38,000 kilometers (24,000 miles) from our planet, with a size of about 320 meters (1,050 feet). That’s equivalent to 107 elephants stitched together, for reference. And it could very well kill us all. Just kidding. Maybe.