WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Asteroid passing Earth on Sunday poses no threat

Posted February 4, 2018 3:24 p.m. EST
Updated February 4, 2018 4:16 p.m. EST

At 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, while many make Superbowl preparations, Asteroid 2002 AJ129 will make a close approach to Earth. This intermediate-sized, near-Earth asteroid is estimated to be 0.3 to 0.75 miles across. Close is a very relative term in the near-earth-object business.

Though classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA), 2002 Aj129 does not pose any threat of colliding with our planet for the foreseeable future. The asteroid will pass beneath Earth’s orbit no closer than 2.6 million miles away, about 10 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

The PHA designation is based on Earth Minimum Orbit Intersection Distance. Any asteroid that can get within 0.05 astronomical units — nearly 20 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon or about 4.65 million miles — gets the label.

NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, gives PHA’s extra attention.

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

2002 Aj129 is a bit unusual because of its speed, though. At the time of closest approach, it will be traveling 76,000 mph. Its highly eccentric orbit brings it very close to the sun giving it a speed boost as it passes through our part of the solar system.

You can follow NASA’s asteroid watch on Twitter at @AsteroidWatch