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NASA asteroid watch: Could an object from outer space hit the Earth in 2046?

NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office is tracking an 160-foot diameter asteroid that has a slight chance of hitting Earth in 23 years.

Asteroid has a date with Earth for Valentine’s Day 2046

The Planetary Defense Coordination Office at the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is tracking a newly discovered asteroid named 2023 DW. According to the observations so far, the roughly 160-foot (49m) in diameter Near Earth Object (NEO) has a slight chance, 1 in 560 or 0.18%, of crashing into Earth, but the public shouldn’t get alarmed.

Furthermore, it won’t make its closest approach to Earth for another 23 years, on Valentine’s Day 2046. And when it does, it will only come within 1.1 million miles of our planet. For that reason, the asteroid has been given a 1 on the Torino Scale as “the chance of collision is extremely unlikely” and that with additional observations it will “very likely will lead to re-assignment to Level 0″ or zero chance of a collision.

Even if 2023 DW were to hit Earth, it wouldn’t be a cataclysmic event but it could cause extreme damage locally were it to explode in the atmosphere. In 2013, a meteor less than half the size of the newly discovered space rock exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia. It generated a shockwave which damaged thousands of buildings and injured roughly 1,500 people as windows exploded.

You may be interested in: ‘Planet killer’ asteroid detected: Could it hit the Earth? When?

Asteroids don’t need to be big to be destructive

Most meteors burn up on entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the friction with the air vaporizes them or breaks them in to smaller pieces that are generally not dangerous. Still, every 2,000 years, give or take, a space rock the size of a football field, which is big enough to cause significant local damage, enters our atmosphere. However, even small celestial bodies that enter Earth’s atmosphere can cause extreme damage if they explode before reaching the ground. In 1908, a meteor perhaps 20 meters across detonated over the Siberian forest in Russia. The force of the blast, known as the Tunguska event, was equivalent to that of a 12 megaton bomb and leveled an area of around 830 square miles. Another thought to be of similar size around 3,700 years ago wiped out the city of Tall el-Hammam in the Jordan Valley and the surrounding area couldn’t be farmed for at least 300 years. This event is credited with being the inspiration for the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

To find out just how much damage an Earth impact could cause you can check an online tool provided by the Imperial College of London and Purdue University.

Methods to protect Earth from asteroids

There are international efforts to protect Earth from potential threats from outer space. NASA launched the Double Asteroid Redirect mission, or DART, in 2021 with the intention of changing the orbit of an asteroid. The agency’s spacecraft was on a suicide mission to crash into the smaller moonlet of a binary asteroid system, comprised of Didymos and Dimorphos, about 7 million miles from Earth.

DART reached its target September last year and hit Dimorphos at about 15,000 mph. The mission was a success, altering the asteroid’s orbit around Didymos.


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