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A huge asteroid hurtling toward Earth will fly by us next month

Published Aug 21st, 2019 5:04PM EDT
asteroid flyby 2019
Image: Hubble Space Telescope / ESA

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Some astronomers have suggested that Earth is overdue for a large asteroid impact, and that we’re living on borrowed time until we can shore up our planetary defenses to protect us from a true “planet-killer” space rock. With a potentially mile-wide asteroid headed to our neck of the woods in September, that notion may be enough to make your palms sweat, but it seems luck is on our side once again.

The object known as 467317 (2000 QW7) may lack a flashy nickname, but it more than makes up for it in size. The space rock is estimated to be anywhere from around 3,000 feet to nearly a mile and a half wide, putting it in the running to be one of the more frightening space rocks to show its face near our planet.

The good news is that we shouldn’t have to worry about this particular asteroid — at least right now. The rock is expected to safely pass Earth at a distance of over three million miles. That may sound like an incredibly huge miss, but it’s actually quite close in the grand scheme of things and it’s enough for NASA to consider it a potentially hazardous object.

This asteroid shouldn’t pose a threat during its closest approach on September 14th, and we won’t be seeing it around Earth for some time afterward. Based on its observed orbit, and future Earth orbits estimated by researchers, the rock’s next closest approach won’t come until October 2038, and even then it will pass at a considerably larger distance than it will in a few weeks.

Scientists around the world have been working on plans that could potentially save Earth from a devastating asteroid impact, but right now they’re little more than untested theories of what might work. Going forward, planetary defense will be more of a priority than ever, and we’ll need some kind of a system in place to give us a shot at defending ourselves from objects like asteroids.