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Current Affairs

Asteroid that will make close approach to Earth

Date: 06 June 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

Earlier this week, NASA announced that a giant asteroid is expected to pass Earth (at a safe distance) on June 6. The asteroid, a Near-Earth Object (NEO), is called 163348 (2002 NN4) and is classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA).

 

Background

NEOs occasionally approach close to the Earth as they orbit the Sun, NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Study (CNEOS) determines the times and distances of these objects as and when their approach to the Earth is close.

 

Details

  • NASA defines NEOs as comets and asteroids nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits which allows them to enter the Earth’s neighborhood. These objects are composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles.

  • The scientific interest in comets and asteroids is largely due to their status as relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process over 4.6 billion years ago. Therefore, these NEOs offer scientists clues about the chemical mixture from the planets formed.

  • Significantly, among all the causes that will eventually cause the extinction of life on Earth, an asteroid hit is widely acknowledged as one of the likeliest.

  • Over the years, scientists have suggested different ways to ward off such a hit, such as blowing up the asteroid before it reaches Earth, or deflecting it off its Earth-bound course by hitting it with a spacecraft.

  • This asteroid is classified as a PHA, which means the asteroid has the potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth. Asteroids with a minimum orbit intersection distance (MOID) of about 0.05, which is about 7,480,000 km or less and an absolute magnitude (H) of 22 or less are considered PHAs.

  • No asteroid larger than 140 meter has a “significant” chance of hitting the Earth for the next 100 years, less than half of the estimated 25,000 NEOs that are 140 meters or larger in size have been found to date.

  • It is not necessary that asteroids classified as PHAs will impact the Earth. It only means there is a possibility for such a threat.

  • By monitoring these PHAs and updating their orbits as new observations become available, scientists can better predict the close-approach statistics and thus their Earth-impact threat.