Close call? Asteroid could pass Earth by 11k miles, 95% closer than the moon

© DLR German Aerospace Center
A recently discovered asteroid is scheduled to fly by Earth in March, but NASA can’t quite tell how far away it will be when that happens. One estimate is as close as 11,000 miles, about 95 percent closer than the moon.

The asteroid known as 2013 TX68, was first discovered three years ago, as its name implies, but the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey was only able to track its path for three days before it entered daytime skies, where monitoring is not possible. That short amount of time precluded scientists from getting a better understanding of what the asteroid’s orbit around the sun looks like.

What is known is that the asteroid is 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter and will be in Earth’s neighborhood for quite some time, but what is not known is whether that means 11,000 or 9 million miles away from our planet by next month. For comparison, the moon is 238,000 miles away.

"This asteroid's orbit is quite uncertain, and it will be hard to predict where to look for it," Paul Chodas of NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies said in a statement.

"There is a chance that the asteroid will be picked up by our asteroid search telescopes when it safely flies past us next month, providing us with data to more precisely define its orbit around the sun," Chodas added.

The next flyby for 2013 TX68 will be in September of 2017, when it will have a one in 250,000,000 chance of Earthly impact. By comparison, the odds of winning the $1 billion Powerball jackpot last month were one in 292,000,000. NASA predicts the following flybys in 2046 and 2097 will be even less likely to end in collision.

"The possibilities of collision on any of the three future flyby dates are far too small to be of any real concern," Chodas said. "I fully expect any future observations to reduce the probability even more."