An asteroid that has only just been discovered is set for an “extremely close” encounter with Earth—and you can watch it live as it zooms past our planet.
The asteroid, known as 2023 BU, will make a close approach Thursday at approximately 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time, data from NASA‘s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) shows.
At that point, the space rock will come within “only” around 6,500 miles from the center of the Earth while traveling at a speed of roughly 33,300 miles per hour. Given that the average radius of the Earth—the distance from the center to the surface—is considered to be roughly 4,000 miles, 2023 BU will zip past us at an altitude of around 2,500 miles above the ground.
While this may sound like a long way away, in astronomical terms it is a tiny distance. In fact, the flyby of 2023 BU is the fourth nearest of more than 35,000 past and future Earth approaches in the CNEOS database, which contains data covering a 300-year period stretching from 1900 to 2200.
The approach is so close that it is less than 3 percent of the average distance between the Earth and the moon. The asteroid will also pass within the orbits of geostationary satellites, which circle the Earth above the equator at an altitude of 22,236 miles.
2023 BU was only discovered this past Saturday, but astronomers have calculated its orbit accurately, and there is no chance that it will collide with our planet this time around.
By some definitions, the asteroid will even pass through the uppermost region of the Earth’s atmosphere known as the “exosphere,” which may extend anywhere from around 6,000 miles to 120,000 miles above the Earth, depending on the interpretation used.
But many scientists do not consider the exosphere, which gradually fades into the vacuum of space, to be a true part of the atmosphere because the air is so thin in this region.
If you would like to watch the asteroid as it flies past the Earth, the Virtual Telescope Project (VTP)—a service provided by the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Ceccano, Italy, that operates and provides access to robotic, remotely operated telescopes—is hosting a livestream that will show the object speeding through space around the time of its close approach.
The live feed is scheduled to begin Thursday at 7:15 p.m. Universal Coordinated Time, or 2:15 p.m. Eastern Time.
Gianluca Masi, an astronomer who runs the VTP, told Newsweek this is one of the closest recorded approaches by an asteroid in recent years. “Of course, we also had impacts with objects discovered just before they entered our atmosphere—five since 2008,” he said.
Even if the asteroid was on a collision course with our planet, there would not be much to worry about. The CNEOS data shows that the object measures only between 12.4 feet and 27.8 feet across—likely somewhere in between.
According to NASA, space rocks measuring smaller than 25 meters across (around 82 feet) will most likely burn up if they enter the Earth’s true atmosphere, causing little to no damage on the ground.
Do you have a tip on a science story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about asteroids? Let us know via email@example.com.