On November 8, asteroid 2005 YU55 will pass by Earth at a distance closer than the Moon.
Next week, Earth will have a very close encounter when asteroid 2005 YU55 passes within 0.85 lunar distances of Earth. How close it that? Well, the Moon is about 385,000 km away from Earth and so 0.85 of a lunar distance is equal to about 327,000 km. Pretty close in astronomical terms, but certainly not close enough to part your hair as it shoots by.
Asteroid 2005 YU55 was discovered in – surprise, surprise – 2005 by Robert McMillan of the Spacewatch Program and is calculated to have passed even closer to Earth in 1976, although it slipped by undetected that time. This passing will provide an unprecedented opportunity for ground-based observations and both the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and NASA’s Deep Space Network Goldstone facility in the Mojave Desert shall be tracking it as it passes.
While the news will disappoint doomsday theorists, there is no chance that the passing of YU55 will:
- Cause a tsunami;
- Alter Earth’s orbit;
- Trigger volcanic eruptions;
- Lead to a radio blackout.
Nor will it collide with Earth. Although classed as a hazardous object and large enough to cause regional devastation were it to hit, NASA says there is no chance of it actually doing so – at least, not for another 100 years or more. However, there is a slight wrinkle. According to Sky and Telescope, YU55 is due to pass within about 280,000 km of Venus in 2029 – close enough for the planet’s gravitational pull to slightly alter the asteroid’s orbit – which means it’s impossible to say exactly how close YU55 will come to Earth when it makes its next pass in 2041. That said, the asteroid is not expected to come any closer to Earth then than it will next week – calculations put its minimum distance at anywhere from 230,000 km to 30 million km. Let’s hope those calculations are correct!