Those of us prone to believing in the inevitability of apocalyptic disasters have been a little perturbed by recent claims that NASA is on alert over an asteroid that will fly past Earth on Friday.
Tweets like the following are to blame:
An asteroid, 2008 YB35, is indeed scheduled to sail by Earth on Friday. A NASA spokesperson explained in an email to Fusion that the object will be closest to Earth at 2:20 pm EST.
Brace yourself? Not quite. At that time, the asteroid will be 2.7 million miles away. That seems pretty far! Right?
NASA does keep tabs on asteroids that might, one day, destroy us completely, a la the dinosaurs. But this one isn't one of them.
Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program office at NASA JPL, emailed over some answers to our fearful queries. We asked if NASA is on alert, and he said “No.” He elaborated:
This close approach is not an unusual event: the asteroid is not coming extremely close to the Earth. NASA has known for months that this asteroid would pass safely by the Earth on Friday. Asteroids of this size pass at this distance several times every year.
In fact, he added, this event could be a good thing. “The close approach provides an opportunity to study the asteroid up close with a variety of telescopes, and learn more about asteroids in general. It has already been observed by radar, for example.”
We also asked how close an asteroid would have to be for NASA to actually be on alert. He said that “if an asteroid has a chance of approaching much closer than this one will, say approximately 20,000 miles of Earth, NASA would go into a higher level of monitoring.”
So we’re safe. For now.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.