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A newly discovered asteroid will pass Earth tonight

A small asteroid flies very close to Earth on Thursday evening, less than a week after astronomers discovered the object.

The asteroid, named 2023 BU, was expected to pass over the southern tip of South America at 7:27 p.m. Eastern Time. The asteroid is quite small – less than 30 feet in diameter, about the size of a truck – and will be best visible in the sky west of southern Chile. For space watchers unable to see 2023 BU firsthand, the Virtual Telescope Project will stream the event on its website and YouTube channel.

The asteroid will not touch Earth but will make one of the closest approaches ever made by such an object, hurtling down to Earth just 2,200 miles above its surface, according to a press release from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of The NASA. The encounter puts the asteroid “well within geosynchronous satellite orbit,” the statement noted, but the asteroid is not on track to hit any.

2023 BU was unknown to NASA, or anyone, until last Saturday. Gennadiy Borisov, an amateur astronomer in Crimea, observed the asteroid from the MARGO observatory, a configuration of telescopes he has used to discover other interstellar objects. Astronomers then determined 2023 BU’s orbit around the sun and impending journey beyond Earth using data from the Minor Planet Center, a project sanctioned by the International Astronomical Union. It publishes the positions of newly discovered space objects, including comets and satellites, based on information from several observatories around the world.

In 2020, Leonardo Amaral, an amateur astronomer in Brazil, discovered another near-Earth asteroid, 2020 QU6, while using an observatory near São Paulo. The object did not approach Earth closer than 20 million miles – about 84 times the distance between Earth and the Moon – but has sparked interest in helping amateur astronomers find and track objects that could pose a threat to the planet.

“Major NASA-funded professional research programs do, by far, the heavy lifting in discovering new objects,” said Davide Farnocchia, a navigation engineer at JPL who works with the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, or CNEOS. . “But that doesn’t mean we can’t use the help of additional people, which include professional astronomers from other countries but also amateur astronomers. We like to have as many as possible in order to get the best possible estimate of path.

There are plenty of items to find. Most solar system asteroids orbit the sun in the region between Mars and Jupiter, more than 3.2 astronomical units – 3.2 times the distance between the sun and Earth – away from our planet ever approaching. Asteroids are considered near-Earth objects if they approach within 1.3 astronomical units, and there are several hundred million objects less than 460 feet wide in this category, said Dr. Farnocchia.

To pose a serious threat to Earth, an object would have to be more than a dozen times larger than 2023 BU. Even if a smaller object like 2023 BU were about to hit Earth, it would likely disintegrate in the atmosphere, possibly throwing up debris in the form of small meteorites.

In 2005, Congress ordered NASA to identify 90 percent of near-Earth asteroids 460 feet or larger capable of destroying a city. In September, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission tested a possible defense against such objects. The spacecraft, which launched in late 2021, impacted Dimorphos, a 550-foot-wide asteroid millions of miles from Earth. The mission was deemed a success after the Rock’s orbit was shortened by 32 minutes.

Dr. Farnocchia noted that a truly dangerous asteroid would be both larger and brighter than 2023 BU and would therefore be spotted much longer before its arrival. He added that objects much smaller than 2023 BU pass near Earth with some regularity.

“This case may seem exceptional, but in fact objects of a similar size approach this close to Earth about once a year on average,” he said. “So it’s not an exceptional event. It’s not a daily occurrence, but it’s something that happens regularly.

nytimes Gt

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