Asteroid to whizz past Earth, its closest approach in 400 years

19 Apr 2017

Image: Pavel Gaja/Shutterstock

In yet another close shave for Earth, an asteroid called 2014 JO25 is to whizz past in its closest approach to our planet in 400 years.

Given the vastness and darkness of the universe, it can be incredibly hard for astronomers to track potentially dangerous objects that could be on a collision course with Earth.

Last September, for example, NASA discovered quite late that two asteroids just missed Earth within a margin of a few thousand kilometres. This prompted the birth of the Asteroid Day campaign to remind people of how close we are to potential annihilation.

Sometimes though, an asteroid whizzing past Earth can be viewed a little more calmly by astronomers, as is the case with today’s (19 April) flyby of 2014 JO25.

First discovered three years ago, the asteroid is believed to be around 650 metres in size with a surface twice as reflective as that of the moon.

Despite being at a safe distance of 1.8m km from Earth, this flyby is actually the closest the asteroid has come to Earth in 400 years, and will be its closest approach for at least the next 500 years.

For interested stargazers, 2014 JO25 will be visible in the night sky after 19 April through small telescopes, before fading away into the cosmic void after a day or two.

Great opportunity for astronomers

NASA and other astronomical organisations will be eager to study 2014 JO25, as very little is known about its physical properties.

Using radar observations, NASA hopes to create a series of images that could reveal surface details as small as a few metres.

The comet PanSTARRS will also make its closest approach to Earth on 19 April, at a very safe distance of 175m km.

NASA said that small asteroids pass within a short distance of Earth several times each week, but 2014 JO25 is one of the largest, with the next similar-sized object – asteroid 1999 AN10 – expected to whizz by Earth in 2027.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic