An asteroid will zoom by close enough to Earth this week that standard telescopes may be able to spot it in the night sky, experts say.
The space rock, dubbed 2023 DZ2 by NASA, is expected to fly between the Earth and the moon at a speed of more than 17,400 miles per hour, according to the agency.
The asteroid will pass on Friday and Saturday on a track scientists suspect is a little less than half the average distance to the Moon from Earth – which is still 174,650 kilometers, or about 108,000 miles – and a diameter of between 140 feet and 310 feet. For reference, an Olympic-size swimming pool is about 50 meters long.
Astronomers at the La Palma Observatory in Spain’s Canary Islands discovered 2023 DZ2 in late February this year and have since studied the rock to note its orbit, size and projected trajectory.
It will be closest to Earth around 3:50 p.m. Eastern Time on the afternoon of March 25, according to the EarthSky website. People in the northern hemisphere are likely to have their best opportunity to see the asteroid, which experts believe can be observed through small telescopes, on the evening of Friday, March 24th.
NASA introduced the upcoming cosmic visitor in messages on Twitter this week, which confirmed the asteroid is unlikely to collide with Earth. Still, the agency said their narrow approach will allow astronomers to learn more about asteroids and help them prepare for any “potential asteroid threat” that might be discovered in the future.
“A newly discovered #asteroid named 2023 DZ2 will pass safely over 100,000 miles from Earth on Saturday,” read a tweet shared on NASA’s Asteroid Watch Twitter account on Tuesday. “While close approaches are regular, an asteroid of this size (140-310 feet) comes close only about once every decade, presenting a unique opportunity for science.”
“Astronomers at the International Asteroid Warning Network are using this narrow approach to learn as much as possible about 2023 DZ2 in a short amount of time – good practice for #PlanetaryDefense in the future if a potential asteroid threat is ever discovered,” the wrote agency a second tweet.
According to EarthSky, scientists believed for a time that the new asteroid posed a possible risk of colliding with Earth during a future orbit and suggested that 2023 DZ2 could hit Earth on March 27, 2026. However, on Tuesday this week officials removed the asteroid from the Sentry risk table, a monitoring system developed around the turn of the century to keep a running catalog of space objects that could collide with Earth for at least the next 100 years.
Another asteroid that scientists also discovered and named in February 2023 Deutsche Welle, may carry a greater risk of hitting Earth in the relatively foreseeable future. The asteroid was first sighted on February 26, according to the European Space Agency, which put the stone on its own risk list and ranked it number 1. ESA predicts the asteroid has a 1 in 607 chance of hitting Earth. and estimates that the collision could occur as early as Valentine’s Day 2046, although it could also occur on subsequent Valentine’s Days between 2047 and 2051.
2023 DW has a Torino Scale ranking of 1, meaning it is not expected to pose an “unusual danger level.” Researchers have said its diameter is likely about that of an Olympic-size swimming pool, although the level of uncertainty about its true size “could be large”.