Published: 2020-11-25 14:02:00
Updated: 2020-11-25 14:24:55
Posted November 25, 2020 2:02 p.m. EST
Updated November 25, 2020 2:24 p.m. EST
You may have read this week about an "asteroid the size of the world's largest building hurtling toward Earth at more than 56,000 mph." Some news sites even add "NASA confirms." Most of these things are technically correct, but the most important point is left out.
Asteroid 153201 (2000 WO107) will miss the Earth by nearly 2.7 million miles on Sunday. Observations of the asteroid also put its size somewhere between four football fields. That wide variance comes from the difficulty in determining the size of relatively small objects so far away.
What has me scratching my head is why this particular Near Earth Object (NEO) is getting so much attention. The trio of NEOs that will (again safely) approach Earth on Thanksgiving Day are far more interesting. This includes asteroid 2018 RQ4, which will come 10 times closer than Sunday's.
In 2005, Congress assigned NASA the goal of finding 90% of the near-Earth asteroids that are about 460 feet (140 meters) or larger in size. The space agency answered that call with the NASA Center for Near Earth Object Studies, which tracks this and other NEOs.
The next time you see a claim about an asteroid heading for Earth, you can see the data for yourself from the center's latest information on upcoming close approaches.
Data there shows close approaches (CA) within about 19 lunar distances (LD) over the next 60 days. Any NEO with a number greater than one in the "CA distance minimum LD" column has no chance to hit the Moon, much less the Earth.