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Another asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, but astronomers say it’ll miss us

Published Jul 17th, 2019 2:25PM EDT
asteroid 2006 qv89
Image: Hubble Space Telescope / ESA

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If you’ve been wringing your hands and saying your goodbyes in advance of the visit from asteroid 2006 QV89 later this year, you can relax. The space rock, which had a very, very tiny chance of posing a threat to Earth, has been under close observation by astronomers who have since confirmed that it will indeed miss our planet entirely.

As the ESA and European Southern Observatory explain in a new post, the asteroid was thought to have a roughly 1-in-7,000 shot at impacting Earth. That’s an incredibly tiny percentage, but it was still a risk that had to be investigated. Thankfully, we can all breathe easy. Probably.

The asteroid wouldn’t exactly be a “planet killer” even if it did strike Earth. Upper ranges of its estimated size put it at just over 160 feet across, so it would likely do some serious damage if it exploded in the skies above a populated region, but it’s not the kind of doomsday asteroid that we imagine from science fiction flicks.

“While we do not know 2006 QV89’s trajectory exactly, we do know where it would appear in the sky if it were on a collision course with our planet,” ESA explains. “Therefore, we can simply observe this small area of the sky to check that the asteroid is indeed, hopefully, not there.”

The researchers did exactly that and saw that the asteroid was indeed not on the potentially dangerous course that would make it a risk for us on Earth.

“Even if the asteroid were smaller than expected, at only a few metres across, it would have been seen in the image,” ESA says. “Any smaller than this and the VLT could not have spotted it, but it would also be considered harmless as any asteroid this size would burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.”