Saturday, February 3, 2018

Huge Asteroid to Miss Earth on Sunday

A huge near-Earth object (NEO), designated 2002 AJ129, is slated to pass by our planet on Sunday, February 4 at 21:30 UTC. The space rock will fly by the Earth with a relative velocity of 34 km/s at a safe distance of about 11 lunar distances (LD), what corresponds to 4.2 million kilometers.

2002 AJ129 is an Apollo-type asteroid discovered on Jan. 15, 2002, by the former NASA-sponsored Near Earth Asteroid Tracking project at the Maui Space Surveillance Site on Haleakala, Hawaii.

Astronomers estimate that 2002 AJ129 has a diameter between 0.5 to 1.2 kilometers. Therefore it was classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA). PHAs are asteroids larger than 100 meters that can come closer to Earth than 19.5 LD.

2002 AJ129 has an absolute magnitude of 18.7 and a semimajor axis of approximately 1.37 AU. It takes this asteroid 586 days to fully orbit the Sun. Next close approach of this NEO to Earth is expected on April 18, 2024 when it will fly by our planet at a distance of about 128 LD, or 49 million kilometers.

According to Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, 2002 AJ129 poses no danger to Earth within next 100 years.

“We have been tracking this asteroid for over 14 years and know its orbit very accurately. Our calculations indicate that asteroid 2002 AJ129 has no chance — zero — of colliding with Earth on February 4 or any time over the next 100 years,” Chodas said.

On February 3, there were 1,882 PHAs detected, however none of them is on a collision course with our planet. To date, astronomers have discovered more than 17,700 NEOs. Only in January 2018, 168 such objects were detected.

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