A “potentially hazardous” asteroid bigger than any building in the world will pass by Earth this week. Not only is it the biggest known asteroid coming within 2.3 million miles of Earth this year, but it’s so massive that you might be able to see it in the sky.
The asteroid, named 1994 PC1, has an estimated width of 3,600 feet, nearly 1,000 feet longer than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world. There are over 27,000 known near-Earth objects, which are any space debris that comes within 120.8 million miles of Earth. However, 1994 PC1 is one of 885 near-Earth objects at least 3,280 feet wide. It is one of several massive asteroids to pass by Earth in recent weeks.
First discovered in Aug. 1994, 1994 PC1 is classified as a “potentially hazardous” asteroid because it is an Apollo asteroid, meaning it crosses Earth’s orbit.
If it were to hit Earth, it would cause “complete catastrophe” and destroy nearly everything within a 25 mile radius of the impact, says Franck Marchis, Chief Scientific Officer at Unistellar and Senior Planetary Astronomer at the SETI Institute.
“The amount of energy is 10,000 megatons of TNT. That’s more than a nuclear blast,” Marchis told USA TODAY.
While it sounds terrifying, there’s no need to expect a “Don’t Look Up” situation.
It will be 1.2 million miles away from Earth on Jan. 18 at 4:51 p.m. ET while traveling at 43,754 miles per hour. It will be the closest since it was an estimated 699,027 miles away on Jan. 17, 1933, and it is not expected to come as close until Jan. 18, 2150, when it will be an estimated 1.4 million miles away.
But just like in the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, Marchis said data collected when it passes will give an accurate shape of the asteroid and offer possibilities to mine or visit it one day. But don’t think it’s a billion dollar asteroid.
“It’s a rocky asteroid. It’s not made of material that will be rare,” Marchis said. “It’s kind of a boring asteroid.”
Gianluca Masi, astrophysicist and founder of the Virtual Telescope Project, said the asteroid is the biggest this year to come within 10 lunar distances, or 2.3 million miles, close to earth.
Marchis said these approaches aren’t scary, but he views them like going to a check-up at the doctor’s office; making sure everything is normal so nothing bad happens in the future.
However, NASA is preparing in case an asteroid would cause catastrophic effects on Earth. The agency launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, on Nov. 25. The purpose of DART is to test if it is possible to knock an asteroid away from Earth should one ever head directly toward the planet.
How to see asteroid 1994 PC1
Marchis said asteroids do not emit light, but they do reflect it. So the reflection, along with the size of 1994 PC1, makes it possible for it to be viewed on Earth. It will be visible as long as you have a backyard telescope.
It will be viewable when it gets to its closest point to Earth on Jan. 18, but it will also be possible to see it on Jan. 17 and Jan. 19. It’s better to see it in Southern Hemisphere as it has already been spotted by Unistellar in New Zealand. No need to worry, as it will be visible in the U.S. But where should people look?
Marchis said it will be around 25 degrees in elevation, adding it will be around the Eridanus constellation. Star gazing apps can locate where the constellation is.
“It’s going to be a tiny dot moving,” he said. “Because it’s spinning on itself, you’ll see some small variations of light.”
But if you don’t have a telescope or have trouble viewing it, don’t fret. The Virtual Telescope Project will live stream the event on Jan. 18.
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