An Asteroid Will Come Close to Earth—But How Close?
The approaching asteroid is hidden in the sun’s glare, which makes it difficult to follow.
A small asteroid is currently hurtling toward Earth. And while NASA says there is essentially no chance of impact, it could be a close shave.
Asteroid 2013 TX68 is expected to swing by our planet on March 8. It could pass at a distance of 3 million miles (5 million km), which is a comfortable 12.5 times farther than the moon. Or it could come as close as 15,000 miles (24,000 km). That’s closer that our geosynchronous satellites orbit (but it’s not expected that any satellites will be in danger).
The reason for the wide variance in estimates is, essentially, lack of data. The asteroid was discovered and last seen in 2013 by the Catalina Sky Survey. At the time, scientists were only able to gather data on it for three days before it passed in front of the sun and was lost in glare.
“While astronomers could determine an orbit for the asteroid, there was some uncertainty in the orbital parameters [or its specific flight trajectory],” says Patrick Taylor, an asteroid scientist at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Since then, Taylor says, the predictions on its path “have diverged a bit.”
Taylor says it’s unlikely astronomers will be able to narrow down the exact distance of the closest approach before the encounter because 2013 TX68 is currently approaching from the direction
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