An asteroid measuring nine football fields long is zipping past our planet today. Here’s what you need to know about this near Earth object and why there’s nothing to worry about.
The asteroid, designated 1994 PC1, will make its closest approach to Earth at 4:51 p.m. EST (1:51 p.m. PST), at which time it’ll come to within 1.23 million miles (1.98 million kilometers) of our planet, according to NASA. That’s a safe distance, as it’s slightly more than five times the average distance of Earth to the Moon.
The Rome-based Virtual Telescope Project 2.0 is hosting a livestream of the close approach, which is expected to begin shortly after 2:00 p.m. EST (11:00 a.m. PST). You can catch the action at the feed provided below.
Gianluca Masi, the founder of the project, said opportunities to see bright and relatively close asteroids like 1994 PC1 don’t happen very often. The object won’t be visible to the unaided eye, but amateur astronomers using small telescopes between 100 mm to 150 mm in diameter should be able to spot it crossing the Cetus, Pisces, Andromeda, and Cassiopeia constellations, Masi told me in an email.
For this encounter, Masi will be using the group’s main robotic unit located in Ceccano, Italy, which is located 56 miles (90 km) south of Rome. The automated device will track the apparent motion of 1994 PC1 across the backdrop of stars, which should result in some “very nice images,” said Masi. The skies above the site are expected to be clear, so “we are keeping our fingers crossed to have a great view and share the experience with the world,” he added. The asteroid is currently moving at a rate of 31.5 miles per second (19.56 km/s).
1994 PC1 is deemed a potentially hazardous asteroid and a near Earth object (NEO), but the 0.6-mile-wide (1-kilometer-wide) space rock poses no tangible threat to Earth. A look at NASA’s NEO Earth Close Approaches table shows that 1994 PC1 won’t come any closer than this for at least the next 200 years. Interestingly, the asteroid did come a smidge closer in 1933, when, unbeknownst to humans, it brushed past at a distance of 699,000 miles (1.12 million kilometers).
NASA is currently tracking 28,000 NEOs, with an additional 3,000 objects added to the list each year. The space agency recently upgraded its impact monitoring system, called Sentry-II, which is capable of tracking all known NEOs and calculating impact odds as low as a few chances in 10 million.