Trajectory simulation of asteroid 2014 UR116. Credit: NASA/JPL
Near Earth Objects are discovered quite regularly, but fortunatly they are often small and their orbits pose no threat to Earth. This week however Russian scientists announced they found an object that was getting a bit to close for comfort: The “mountain-sized” astroid that they found, going by the designation 2014 UR116, was initially projected by them to pass so close to Earth that it could pose a real risk. Their announcement triggered more observations of this space rock by NASA and the Minor Plant Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their conclusion: the asteroid comes close to Earth, but there is no risk of collision. Phew!
The asteroid was discovered by astronomers from Kislovodsk, Russia and is approximately 400m in diameter. This means it would be a big disaster if it were to hit Earth. Russian scientist Vladimir Lipunov, who discovered the asteroid has stated that it poses no immediate danger. This is also the statement from NASA after a closer investigation: The asteroid 2014 UR116 is in an 3-year orbit around the sun that takes it into Earths neighborhood periodically, but it does not form a threat as it does not pass significantly close to the Earth.
After their investigation it turned out that this asteroid was actually observed before, 6 years ago. Using the data gathered during both observations the trajectory of the asteroid was computed and estimated for the future. The conclusion of this analysis was that the asteroid does not form an impact thread in the next 150 years. As said, the asteroid will now and then approach the Earth quite closely: In 2017 it will pass the Earth at approximately 29x the Earth-Moon distance. Maybe you will then see the asteroid on our homepage as the “next close approach” NEO.