A massive space rock that boasts a tiny companion moon will fly past Earth this weekend, making the event something out of the ordinary indeed, one asteroid enthusiast has claimed.
“It’s one of the closest binary flybys probably in recent history”, planetary scientist Vishnu Reddy at the University of Arizona in Tucson told NBC News.
“That’s what makes it a very interesting target”, he went on to comment on the so-called binary asteroid, known as 1999 KW4, which will make its closest approach at 7:05 p.m. ET on 25 May.
The main object, shaped like a spinning top with a clear-cut ridge around its equator, is estimated to measure about 0.8 miles in diameter, with the second in the pair, the small moon, is believed to be around a third of that size, EarthSky reported.
According to NASA’s Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies, the 1999 KW4 space rocks will speed past Earth at around 48,000 miles per hour, coming as close as within 3 million miles away, so there is no way they will smash into the Earth. In fact, they won’t even come close enough to see without special equipment. However, if one still wants to catch a glimpse of the duo, which will come that close to our planet only in 2036, they will have to make sure that there is a telescope handy on Saturday night.
1999 KW4 has been classified as a Near Earth Object (NEO), a term that is used to refer to any asteroid or comet whose orbit takes it within 121 million miles of the sun, as well as within approximately 30 million miles of Earth.
Despite the relatively safe distance from Earth, it has also been defined as a “potentially hazardous object”, meaning any NEO that stands at least some chance of colliding with Earth, with a predicted minimum approach distance being less than 4.6 million miles, and is greater than 460 feet in diameter.