DETROIT – Astronomers are saying that this is one case where you should absolutely look up. Face south in the night sky with some pretty strong binoculars or the telescope you got for Christmas.
You should be able to see a phenomenon, a giant asteroid as it skirts between the earth and the sun in what NASA calls a potentially hazardous asteroid. But that’s because it comes razor close to the planet by 1.2 million miles.
Its name is asteroid 7482, and astronomers have known about it since 1994. They’ve been watching it and following its trajectory, and they know that it will pass closest to the earth around 7:25 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18.
They’re watching it as they do with every celestial object that comes within 4 million miles of the Earth, and this one comes 1.2 million miles from the planet.
“Which sounds like it’s really far away,” said Dr. Shannon Schmoll, the director- of the Abrams Planetarium on the campus of Michigan State University and the chair of the education committee of the international planetarium society. “Compare it to like us driving to work, 20 miles from home. It’s very far away, but in the scale of the entire solar system, this is something that is relatively large. It’s potentially hazardous, so in the future, it could end catching up to us; if something were to adjust its orbit slightly, it could potentially hit us. So it’s something that we’d want to keep an eye on just in case.”
Okay, safe this time around and maybe in 200 years when it returns, but perhaps not after that, got it.
Now, space is a prominent place. So yes, in space terms, it’s a pretty close near miss. But let’s do the math in earth terms. Think of the sun 90 million miles from earth. If the sun were Lansing, then the earth would be just about Detroit.
That asteroid would pass just about at the I-75 service drive, about a mile from Campus Martius. It’s traveling at nearly 44-thousand miles per hour, and it’s about a half-mile wide.
“The one that’s passing by is a very large asteroid that could cause significant damage if it actually hit earth,” said Dr. Mike Liemohn, a space sciences professor at the University of Michigan. “So, that’s why we’re still watching it to make sure it passes outside the moons orbit and that we’re very safe.”
The good news is there is almost a certainty that it will miss the onramp to earth and glide right by us, but scientists are still watching carefully. The good news is not only will it just miss earth, but it will also miss other planets in our solar system.
Last year NASA launched an asteroid smacking system called DART designed to nudge future asteroids out of the earth’s path just in case, and they’ve got their eye on an asteroid in October that will get the first nudge.
By the way, there are many asteroids out there, and when they fall to earth and become meteors, Michigan gets a lot of them. There is a beautiful collection at the Abrams Planetarium where you can see them and actually play touchy-feely with them.
Read: Asteroid 7482 to zip by Earth today, relatively closely