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3 Dec, 2019 09:19

Pyramid-sized asteroid to zoom past Earth on Friday, as scientists warn one day a space rock may hit

Pyramid-sized asteroid to zoom past Earth on Friday, as scientists warn one day a space rock may hit

An asteroid roughly as big as the Egyptian pyramids is headed our way and will make a “close approach” to the Earth on Friday evening, having only been spotted late last week.

The asteroid, dubbed 2019 WR3, has been directly observed some 74 times by NASA since it was spotted in the skies on November 27, so the space agency could calculate its size, speed and trajectory, and determine the threat level.

NASA now believes the space rock measures between 76 and 170 meters (249 and 557 feet) and is travelling at speeds of 27,036kph (16,799mph).

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2019 WR3 therefore surpasses the 82ft (25m) diameter rough threshold after which asteroids would survive hitting the Earth’s atmosphere and make it all the way down to the surface. 

It will make its closest approach to Earth on Friday, December 6. Thankfully, close in astronomical terms doesn’t necessarily mean any direct threat; 2019 WR3 will come within 5.44 million km of Earth or roughly 14 times the distance to the moon at its closest point. 

The collective sigh of relief follows the news that the ESA has approved the $471 million Hera mission to test Earth’s mettle and try to deflect an asteroid in 2024.

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“The probability is low but the consequences are high,” Patrick Michel, ESA's lead scientist for Hera said.

“This is why it’s relevant to take care of it. Moreover, we have the tools… We can’t lose more time.”

In the meantime, professor Alan Fitzsimmons from Queen’s University Belfast has issued a call to arms… or telescopes, as the case may be, asking amateur astronomers to nominate potentially dangerous asteroids worth watching. 

“We will get a serious asteroid impact sometime,” he said recently. “It may not be in our lifetime, but mother nature controls when that will happen.”

“Asteroid research is one area of astronomy where amateur observers continue to make an essential contribution.”

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