Almost the size of the world's tallest skyscraper, a newly discovered "potentially hazardous" asteroid is due to crash into Earth just before Halloween.
It is estimated that 2022 RM4 has a diameter of between 330 and 740 metres - just under Dubai's 828 m Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. According to NASA, it will pass our planet at roughly 68 times the speed of sound or 84,500 km/h.
By Nov. 1, the asteroid will be within 2.3 million kilometres of Earth, about six times the average distance between the Earth and the moon. In cosmic terms, this is a very narrow margin.
Objects within 193 million kilometres of our planet are flagged as "near-Earth objects" by NASA, while large bodies within 47.5 million kilometres of our planet are considered "potentially hazardous." Astronomers closely monitor these potential threats once they are flagged, watching for any deviations from their predicted trajectory that could cause them to collide with us to devastating effect.
NASA tracks the locations and orbits of roughly 28,000 asteroids, pinpointing them with the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) — an array of four telescopes able to perform a total scan of the entire night sky every 24 hours.
Since ATLAS was brought online in 2017, it has spotted more than 700 near-Earth asteroids and 66 comets. Two of the asteroids detected by ATLAS, 2019 MO and 2018 LA, actually hit Earth, the former exploding off the southern coast of Puerto Rico and the latter crash-landing near the border of Botswana and South Africa. Fortunately, those asteroids were small and didn't cause any damage.
NASA has estimated the trajectories of all the near-Earth objects beyond the end of the century. The good news is that Earth faces no known danger from an apocalyptic asteroid collision for at least the next 100 years, according to NASA.
The fact that astronomers think they should stop looking does not mean that they should stop looking. There have been a number of devastating asteroid impacts in recent history, despite most near-Earth objects not being civilization-ending.
In March 2021, a bowling ball-sized meteor exploded over Vermont with the force of 200 kilograms of TNT. The 2013 explosion of a meteor above Chelyabinsk, in central Russia, produced roughly the same amount of energy as 26 to 33 Hiroshima bombs. Approximately 1,500 people were injured when fireballs rained down over the city and its environs during the 2013 explosion.
Astronomers have already begun working on ways to deflect dangerous asteroid heading our way. As part of the first test of Earth's planetary defence system, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft rammed the non-hazardous asteroid Dimorphos off course on Sept. 26.
An asteroid-redirect mission is also being planned by China. It hopes to divert the asteroid Bennu from a potentially catastrophic impact with Earth by slamming 23 Long March 5 rockets into it between the years 2175 and 2199.
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