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…
JUICE mission to Jupiter sends back first images of Earth from space
Shortly after launch on 14 April, ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Juice, captured this stunning view of Earth. The coastline around the Gulf of Aden can be made out to the right of centre, with patchy clouds above land and sea.

The European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft, which launched last week, has sent back its first images from space -- and they are some stunning views of the Earth. The JUICE mission is on its way to explore three of Jupiter's largest moons -- Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa -- but it will be traveling for eight years before it arrives at the Jupiter system in 2031.

In the meantime, the spacecraft's cameras have been taking images pointed back at Earth. The images were captured shortly after launch on Friday, April 14, using JUICE's monitoring cameras. The two cameras are designed to watch over the spacecraft as it deploys rather than for scientific purposes, so they capture image at a relatively low resolution of 1024 x 1024 pixels. Even so, they managed to get some gorgeous views of the planet as JUICE speeds away from it.

Read more
A crew capsule just landed on Earth. But why was it empty?
The damaged Soyuz MS-22 departs the space station for the voyage home.

Soyuz spacecraft regularly bring crew home from the International Space Station (ISS), but the one that returned on Tuesday had three empty seats.

In what’s thought to be the first voyage of its kind, Soyuz MS-22 undocked from the space station without any crew and took two hours to reach its landing spot in Kazakhstan following an automated, parachute-assisted descent.

Read more
Scientists observe the aftermath of a spacecraft crashing into asteroid
This artist’s illustration shows the ejection of a cloud of debris after NASA’s DART spacecraft collided with the asteroid Dimorphos. The image was created with the help of the close-up photographs of Dimorphos that the DRACO camera on the DART spacecraft took right before the impact. The DART spacecraft collided with Dimorphos at a speed of over 6 kilometres per second (about 22 000 kilometres per hour). After the impact several telescopes observed the evolution of the cloud of debris, including ESO’s Very Large Telescope.

When NASA deliberately crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid last year, it wasn't only a thrilling test of planetary defense. It was also a unique opportunity for scientists to observe an asteroid system and see the effects of the crash, letting them learn more about what asteroids are composed of. Earlier this month, images of the impact captured by the Hubble Space Telescope were released, and now we can see the impact from another view, captured by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (ESO'S VLT).

The Very Large Telescope is a ground-based set of four telescopes located in Chile, which were able to see the aftermath following the DART spacecraft impacting the asteroid Dimorphos. The images show the cloud of debris thrown up by the impact, called the ejecta, between the time just before the impact on 26 September 2022 all the way through to a month later on October 25. Through this time, the cloud developed clumps and spirals and settled into a long tail formed by radiation from the sun.

Read more