Surprise! Massive Asteroid wider than 2 football fields is barreling toward Earth tonight

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An asteroid wider than two football fields will zoom past
Earth in the wee hours of Thursday (Aug. 4). The asteroid is set to pass at
12:23 a.m. (ET).

This artistic concept image shows an asteroid flying by Earth.

NASA astronomers discovered the asteroid, known as 2022 OE2,
just days ago, on July 26. The meaty space rock is estimated to measure between
557 and 1,246 feet (170 to 380 meters) wide, which is about twice as wide as an
American football field is long. Astronomers also confirmed that 2022 OE2 is an
Apollo-class asteroid, which means it orbits the sun and crosses the path of Earth’s
orbit, Live Science previously reported. (Astronomers know of about 15,000 such

The impact from an asteroid this large would release more
energy than 1,000 nuclear bombs. However, this one will miss Earth by a wide
margin, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Asteroid 2022 OE2 is predicted to pass Earth at a distance
of roughly 3.2 million miles (5.1 million kilometers) — more than 13 times the
average distance between Earth and the moon. For context, this is significantly
farther than the asteroid 2022 NF, which came within a mere 56,000 miles
(90,000 km) — or about 23% the average distance between Earth and the moon — on
July 7.

NASA monitors tens of thousands of near-Earth objects like
this one and has estimated the trajectories of all of them beyond the end of
the century. The good news is, Earth is in no danger of a cataclysmic asteroid
impact for at least the next 100 years, NASA has said.

Still, astronomers are aware that a minor change in
trajectory — which could be caused by a collision with another asteroid, for
example, or the gravitational pull of a planet — could alter the orbit of a
large asteroid and put it on a potentially catastrophic course with Earth.

As such, space agencies take planetary defense very seriously.
In November 2021, NASA launched an asteroid-deflecting mission called the
Double Asteroid Redirection Test, in which a spacecraft will slam directly into
the 525-foot-wide (160 m) asteroid Dimorphos in autumn 2022. The collision
won’t destroy the asteroid, but it may change the space rock’s orbital path
slightly, Live Science previously reported. The mission will help test the
viability of asteroid deflection, should some future space rock pose an
imminent danger to our planet.

Originally published on Live Science.

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