Burj Dubai-sized asteroid heading for Earth in mid-December

A massive asteroid comparable in size to the tallest building on Earth is heading for the planet in mid-December, as noted by NASA’s asteroid tracker.

Designated 163899 (2003 SD220), the huge asteroid has a diameter of approximately 791 meters, almost half a mile long. It is almost the size of the Burj Dubai, the tallest man-made structure on Earth.

However, observations made in 2015 by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico suggested that it could be much larger, at least 2 kilometers in length, and observers compared its shape to that of a sweet potato.

Subsequently, NASA came up with different measurements, around 1.6 kilometers, and compared its shape to that of a hippopotamus. However, current NASA estimates place the asteroid at a diameter of 791 meters.

The asteroid will pass Earth on December 17 at a distance of about 5.4 million kilometers from the planet at a speed of 5.6 km / s.

Radar images of the near-Earth asteroid 2003 SD220 taken by NASA in 2018 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

For comparison, the distance between the Earth and the Moon is much less than that, around 385,000 km. As such, despite being classified as a Potentially Dangerous Asteroid (PHA) due to its size and proximity to Earth, it appears unlikely to pose a threat to the planet. In fact, NASA has declared that Earth is safe from asteroid impacts for the next 100 years.

The asteroid is considered to belong to the Aten class, which means that its orbit intersects the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, but spends most of its time inside it.

As such, there is a theoretical possibility that it will one day hit the planet, but current calculations show that this is not a concern at this time.

However, there is another value in this asteroid, as it could have the potential to be the site of a possible robotic exploration mission.

Currently, no such mission is planned, but it is theoretically possible. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory calculated data for a hypothetical scouting mission to the asteroid. Based on these calculations, you would have a delta-v (a measure of various values ​​and factors that determine how difficult it would be to properly maneuver a spacecraft during takeoff and / or landing) of 9,851 km / s. For comparison, it is the delta-v to launch a rocket into low orbit.

Asteroid exploration is an important field in astronomy and many space agencies have expressed interest in exploring the many large objects in the solar system.

In October, the United Arab Emirates announced plans for a new mission to explore asteroids and be the first Arab nation to successfully land a spacecraft on an asteroid.

Tentatively scheduled to launch in 2028 with a seven-year development time for the spacecraft, the mission will see the United Arab Emirates explore the planet Venus, as well as seven asteroids, culminating in a planned asteroid landing in 2033 after five years. trip.

Three nations have landed on asteroids in the past, and many see them as potential sources for future mining operations, as these asteroids can be rich in raw materials.

    Asteroid impact: how can we prevent one from happening?  (credit: PIXABAY) Asteroid impact: how can we prevent one from happening? (credit: PIXABAY)

However, regardless of the potential, many are also rightly concerned about the dangers of near-Earth asteroids, as the impacts can be devastating and humanity currently lacks the adequate means to defend itself against them.

One method of possibly stopping an asteroid impact is by using deflection, which would mean launching something to slightly alter its trajectory.

In simple terms, it means hitting an asteroid with a rocket with enough speed to change its direction by a fraction of a percentage.

However, other measures have also been considered, such as disruption, that is, the destruction of the asteroid, but at this time, they remain hypothetical.


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