Half-kilometer asteroid soon to (almost) hit Earth again

Color picture of the asteroid 243 Ida, taken on August 28,1993 / Credit: NASA

Heads up for the next few weeks. An asteroid hurtling towards our planet is set to pass through and almost miss our lovely blue marble by a just few million kilometers.

The space rock, which is given the designation 481394 (2006 SF6), is an asteroid that was first discovered by NASA on September 17, 2006, by the Catalina Sky Survey. It has an estimated size of about 2,000 feet, or 0.6 kilometers, making it almost twice as big as the New York’s Empire State Building.

Its orbital path has already been calculated for some time, and it is now slated to reach our planet in the next few weeks hurtling at a speed of almost 18,000 mph (27,000 km/h). Thankfully, it is not on a direct collision course. However, it will pass through Earth at just around 0.029 AU (4.34 million km, or 2.7 million miles), making it one of the larger asteroids to miss the Earth within the last five years.

A distance of 4 million kilometers might not seem that much cause of an alarm, but as an officially designated near-Earth object (NEO), 481394 (2006 SF6) is already within the “potentially hazardous” category by NASA. Though this particular asteroid is not a threat, a similar one lurking around the same vicinity as typical NEOs, with around the same size, would significantly impact the Earth’s surface and regional climate.

As for its orbital history, its first close approach was detected earlier February of this year. Even though the next approach only spanned about a few months, after this month’s close flyby, it will not approach Earth again for nearly two centuries.

Earlier this year, another very close flyby from an asteroid occurred, and it was detected alarmingly too late. Designated as 2019 OK, it was observed only several hours before it actually approached the Earth, and zipped past us at only 0.00036 AU (54,000 km, 33,500 miles). Thankfully, it was not nearly as big as 481394 (2006 SF6), and was only around 426 feet (130 meters) at its biggest estimate.

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