There are thousands of asteroids currently flying through space just out of our view. Usually, they stay within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. However, because these objects are so relatively small, displacing them and changing their orbits is surprisingly simple. As a result, some of them come close to the earth. Currently, a massive asteroid is on track to travel near Earth.
The asteroid, 2015 RN35 is between 206 and 460 feet wide. In other words, it is about the size of a baseball field. The asteroid will pass about 426,000 miles away from Earth. It will be traveling at speeds of 5.91 kilometers per second or over 13,000 miles per hour, according to Newsweek.
To most people, 426,000 miles doesn’t sound like a close approach at all. After all, our moon orbits at a distance of about 239,000 miles away. At the same time, Venus is our nearest neighbor in the solar system and it is more than 150 million miles away. So, when you put the asteroid’s distance from Earth into the perspective of the vastness of space, it seems a little closer.
Near Earth Asteroids
NASA defines Near-Earth Objects as an object that is closer than 1.3 AU (astronomical unit) to Earth. One astronomical unit is equal to 93 million miles. So, anything that comes within about 120 million miles of our planet is considered a Near-Earth Object. Most of those objects are asteroids which NASA refers to as Near-Earth Asteroids.
“Near-Earth Objects are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter Earth’s neighborhood,” according to NASA.
Speaking to Newsweek, Jay Tate, director of the U.K.’s Spaceguard Center said, “Asteroids are bits of a planet that didn’t happen… as they are relatively small, asteroids can be disrupted quite easily, so they can develop orbits that cross those of planets.”
2015 RN35 is more than a Near-Earth Asteroid. It may also be considered a “potentially” hazardous object. These objects come within 4.6 million miles of Earth’s orbit and measure more than 460 feet in diameter. So, if the largest estimations of this asteroid’s size are correct, it is within the parameters to be considered potentially hazardous.
Fortunately, the potentially hazardous designation doesn’t mean that the object poses an immediate threat. Instead, it means that there is a possibility that it may make contact with Earth in the distant future. So, we don’t have to worry about a baseball field-sized asteroid striking our planet any time soon.
Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies talked to Newsweek about potentially hazardous objects. “The potentially hazardous designation simply means over many centuries and millennia the asteroid’s orbit may evolve into one that has a chance of impacting Earth,” he said. “We do not assess these long-term, many-century possibilities of impact.”