Skip to main content

An asteroid is making a close approach to Earth, and scientists are pumped

A once-in-a-decade asteroid will be whizzing past the Earth this weekend. Object 2023 DZ2 is between 140 feet and 310 feet across and is making a close approach to our planet — but don’t worry, there’s no chance of an impact.

The object will pass within 100,000 miles of Earth, around half the distance between Earth and the moon, which is close enough for it to be classified as a Potentially Hazardous Object. But the good news is that an asteroid coming this close to us gives scientists a chance for a practice run at observing any future asteroids that could be dangerous.

Artist's concept of a near-Earth object.
An artist’s concept of a near-Earth object. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists observing the event include a team from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who will be using this weekend as a “fire drill” to practice asteroid threat response.

“The idea is to use this opportunity as a rehearsal of sorts,” said a professor at the laboratory, Vishnu Reddy, in a statement. “We are using this asteroid as a stand-in for a scenario in which a space rock is detected that actually is headed toward the Earth. If that were to happen, we can apply lessons learned from exercises like this one – for example, what are the most important steps the international community would have to take to avert or minimize the risk of an impact and its possible aftermath?”

Newly-discovered asteroid 2023 DZ2 will sail safely past Earth today. Asteroids pass our planet safely all the time, but a close approach by one of this size (140–310 ft, or 43–95 m) happens only about once per decade. (There is no known threat for at least the next 100 years.)

— NASA (@NASA) March 25, 2023

Preparations had to be made quickly, as the asteroid was only spotted on February 27. At first, scientists thought it could impact the planet in 2026, but as they observed it further, they realized it would pass us by safely. Then they leapt at the opportunity to see the asteroid up-close, observing it using telescopes and looking for information on its composition. By studying the way light bounces off it, they can get an idea what it’s made of on the surface — and that will help them estimate its density, which will give them an idea of how it would react during an impact.

“None of these asteroids typically pose a threat,” said doctoral student David Cantillo. “Our goal is to learn more about their composition and specifically look at the smaller size range of near-Earth asteroids, because they’re much harder to detect. DZ2 happened to check all of those boxes with our ongoing work, while also having this extra timely component of a close approach this week.”

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Dramatic images show a large satellite tumbling toward Earth
ESA's ERS-2 satellite tumbling toward Earth.

An illustration of the European Space Agency's ERS-2 satellite. ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) has shared remarkable images showing one of its satellites in what it describes as a “tumbling descent.”

Read more
NASA has collected a whopping 121 grams of sample from asteroid Bennu
A view of eight sample trays containing the final material from asteroid Bennu. The dust and rocks were poured into the trays from the top plate of the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) head. 51.2 grams were collected from this pour, bringing the final mass of asteroid sample to 121.6 grams.

When the OSIRIS-REx dropped a capsule in the Utah desert last year, it made headlines around the globe for returning NASA's first sample of an asteroid to Earth. Scientists were eager to get their hands on the sample of asteroid Bennu to learn about the early formation of the solar system, but actually getting at the sample proved to be rather trickier than imagined.

Scientists were able to extract 70 grams of material from the sample canister relatively easily, making it by far the largest asteroid sample ever brought to Earth, but two troublesome fasteners made it difficult to extract the rest of the sample. The team knew it had plenty more sample inside, but it had to be patient as special new tools were constructed that could undo the fasteners without losing a single gram of the precious sample.

Read more
Homeward bound private astronaut shares gorgeous night shots of Earth
Earth as seen from the International Space Station.

Earth as seen from the International Space Station. Marcus Wendt/Axiom Space/NASA

Axiom Space’s third private mission to the International Space Station (ISS) was supposed to last two weeks, but the all-European crew stayed for a few extra days while it waited for the weather conditions to improve at the splashdown site off the coast of Daytona, Florida.

Read more