A Giant Asteroid Bigger Than The Empire State Building Is About to Zip Past Earth

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A large, rocky asteroid is going to fly by Earth next week.

At 1 kilometer (3,280 feet) long, it’s roughly two and a half times the height of the Empire State Building, and it’s been classed a “Potentially Hazardous Asteroid” due to its size and its regular close visits to our planet.

But don’t worry, this month’s visit is going to have a very safe clearance, with the asteroid zipping by at a distance of 1.93 million kilometers (~1.2 million miles) away from Earth – that’s roughly 5.15 times more distant than the Moon.

The calculations of its trajectory only come with a 133-kilometer (~83-mile) margin of error, so there’s no risk we’ll be colliding with this asteroid any time soon.

In fact, if you’re a stargazer, you’re in for a treat as it visits our skies. The closest approach will take place on January 18 at 21:51 UTC (4.51pm EST).

Known as asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1, the space rock was first discovered in 1994 by astronomer Robert McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.

Tracing its path back, scientists were able to find images of it all the way back to September 1974, which is why we can be so confident in its orbital path.

In fact, asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1 has an orbital arc of just 47 years, which is the length of time between observations in our night sky.

The last close approach was 89 years ago on 17 January 1933, at the slightly closer (but still very safe) distance of 1.1 million kilometers (~699,000 miles). It’s next expected to be within a similar distance of Earth on 18 January 2105.

This close visit will allow astronomers to study more about the stony, S-type asteroid, which belongs to the Apollo asteroid group.

These are the most common group of asteroids we know of, and they all have a similar orbital length to Earth – asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1 orbits the Sun every 1 year and 7 months in Earth time, at a distance of between 0.9 and 1.8 times that of Earth.

 asteroid (7482) 199Position of4 PC1 January 1. (Tomruen/Wikimedia, CC BY 4.0)

The flyby also gives amateur astronomers and stargazers a chance to see the massive rock hurtle past.

The asteroid will be traveling at the mind-boggling speed of around 19.56 kilometers per second (43,754 miles per hour) relative to Earth, which means it’ll appear similar to a star, but will travel across the night sky across the evening.

At a magnitude of 10, the asteroid will be too dim to be seen with the naked eye or binoculars. But if you’ve got at least a 6-inch backyard telescope, you should be able to get a glimpse of it as it whizzes past, according to Eddie Irizarry over at EarthSky.org.

EarthSky also has a full guide on how to view and best photograph the asteroid, which is worth checking out if you’ve got a backyard setup.

With a lot of the world watching Don’t Look Up over the holidays, it’s easy to feel stressed about an asteroid passing this close to Earth. But if the film taught us anything, it was to trust the scientists and their orbital calculations.

An asteroid of this size is only predicted to hit Earth once every 600,000 year or so. Fortunately, NASA is in the process of testing its DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission, which will aim to deflect a small asteroid moonlet off its course by crashing into it.

If it works, it may help us to deflect future asteroid threats. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the view and look up as asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1 whizzes past. There’s nothing better to remind us of our precarious place in the galaxy.

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