An asteroid is on its way to Earth, but don’t worry—the end is not here. The asteroid, dubbed 2023 BU, is about the size of a box truck and is not projected to impact our planet during its flyby on Thursday. However, it will be “one of the closest approaches by a known near-Earth object ever recorded,” according to a NASA scientist.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab said in a release on Wednesday that 2023 BU is about 11.5 to 28 feet (3.5 to 8.5 meters) wide, which is small enough to mostly burn up in our atmosphere if it were to hit us. But NASA doesn’t expect 2023 BU to slam into the planet; instead the asteroid will pass about 2,200 miles (3,600 kilometers) above the southern tip of South America on Thursday, January 26, at 4:32 p.m. PST. NASA was able to calculate the position and trajectory of the asteroid using Near Earth Asteroid Scout, a hazard assessment system.
“Scout quickly ruled out 2023 BU as an impactor, but despite the very few observations, it was nonetheless able to predict that the asteroid would make an extraordinarily close approach with Earth,” said Davide Farnocchia, a navigation engineer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory who developed Scout. “In fact, this is one of the closest approaches by a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”
2023 BU is passing closer to us than some of the satellites orbiting our planet, and Earth’s gravity is changing the asteroid’s path around the Sun from circular to more elongated. The asteroid was discovered by Gennadiy Borisov at the MARGO observatory in Nauchnyi, Crimea on January 21. Since then, observatories across the planet have also detected 2023 BU, leading to robust models of the asteroid’s path and potential hazard.
Astronomers’ detection of and prompt study of 2023 BU shows how robust humanity’s asteroid detection workflow is becoming. Our ability to eventually defend our planet is advancing, too, after the successful DART test mission to deflect asteroid last October.