Hold off on that 2046 Valentine's date, asteroid might hit Earth
Luckily this rock is only about the size of the Arc de Triomphe, let alone the 600-to-1 chance
Astronomers have another near-Earth object on their ones-to-watch lists: a newly discovered 50-metre-wide asteroid that could hit Earth on Valentine's Day ... in 2046.
2023 DW was first observed on February 26 making its way toward our home world on its orbit around the Sun. Scientists have been studying the space rock over some weeks to get a better idea of its physical and orbital properties.
What the eggheads have been able to determine is that the asteroid is right now whizzing along at 24.6 kilometres per second (55,000 MPH), and completes an orbit around the Sun every 271 days, and is potentially hazardous - within a given range.
"We've been tracking a new asteroid named 2023 DW that has a very small chance of impacting Earth in 2046," NASA said on its official Asteroid Watch account on Twitter. "Often when new objects are first discovered, it takes several weeks of data to reduce the uncertainties and adequately predict their orbits years into the future."
The latest predictions from NASA estimate a collision risk of 1-in-600. Meanwhile, ESA has placed 2023 DW at the top of its risk list and believes there is a 1-in-625 chance of impact. You can track the space rock in real-time and monitor its position relative to Earth and other asteroids here.
2023 DW is roughly the length of an Olympic-sized swimming pool or about the height of France's Arc de Triomphe, and isn't large enough to cause catastrophic damage. Still, it could upset your day if it comes down over a densely populated area or causes some sort of tsunami. Simulations predict that if it were to hit Earth, it'd probably strike the Pacific Ocean region.
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Calculations from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory show it will likely miss Earth by about two million kilometres during its closest approach. So no need to panic, although things change.
The Solar System is littered with millions of asteroids; astronomers discover thousands of them every year. In January, astronomers observed one of the closest approaches by a known near-Earth object ever recorded – the box-truck-sized rock 2023 BU – that was only spotted a week before.
Thankfully, there is now a tried-and-tested approach to protecting Earth from potentially hazardous objects, given enough warning time. Probably. NASA's asteroid-punishing DART probe diverted the Dimorphos asteroid, albeit only slightly.
That crash kicked up a million kilograms of rocky dirt and dust from Dimorphos, and shortened its orbit by 33 minutes. Experts believe this method of planetary defense would work if astronomers detected the target asteroid years in advance, and could intercept the rock with a suitable probe in time, maybe. ®