It is extremely unlikely that a colossal space rock will hit Earth in the centuries to come.
NASA, however, is closely monitoring the skies for near-Earth objects that could threaten our planet, whether on a small, regional or planetary scale. Asteroids, often small, regularly move close to Earth – something that still means a few million miles away in space. On May 27, the space agency listed a “close approach” to a 1.1-mile asteroid labeled “7335 (1989 JA).” It will pass us at a distance of about 2.5 million miles.
It is not a threat to Earth. If it were, NASA would issue an official warning to the White House and other government agencies – which is something the space agency he never had to do.
However, through telescopes, the large asteroid is already quite visible in the night sky. The Virtual Telescope Project – an astronomy educational and research endeavor that often shares images of passing objects – has just captured an image of the (7335) 1989 JA as it traveled closer to Earth. “The potentially dangerous asteroid (7335) 1989 JA is almost at a safe, minimal distance from us, now being very bright,” Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi, who led the project, wrote online. (Near-Earth objects are those that pass about 30 million miles from Earth orbit; a “potentially dangerous object” is five million miles away.)
Like most objects large enough or too bright to be seen from millions of miles away, (7335) 1989 JA appears as a bright dot on a background of stars. In the image below from May 23, the rock is about 3.6 million miles away.
The asteroid near Earth (7335) 1989 JA.
Credit: The Virtual Telescope Project
A graphic of the asteroid (7335) 1989 JA (in the orbit of the red line) passing through the Earth and the Moon.
Credit: NASA / Near-Earth Object Study Center
Read more about space rocks and asteroids at Mashable:
Weather permitting, The Virtual Telescope Project will also broadcast the passing asteroid live on May 26 and 27.
NASA is currently hunting for asteroids that are significantly smaller than a giant mile wide, but can still pose a significant threat to residential areas. Congress has instructed NASA to find 90 percent of near-Earth objects 460 feet (140 meters) wide or larger, although even a rock about 100 to 170 feet wide could destroy a place like Kansas City. That’s why NASA-funded telescopes are constantly looking for potentially threatening rocks of all sizes.
If astronomers find them, then we can prepare and move away if a collision is imminent. “You need to know what is coming, when it is coming and how hard it will hit,” Eric Christensen, director of the Catalina Sky Survey looking for NEO in Arizona, recently told Mashable.
And if humanity has a chronic warning, one day we could just push a future asteroid away from our planet.