Asteroid flying-by next week isn't on a collision course with us, NASA reassures

Breathe, Earthlings, 2016 NF23 isn't ramming into us for at least another 100 years

A huge asteroid categorised by NASA as a near-Earth object is expected to pass by our corner of the solar system on 29 August. But contrary to its reputation on the news, the giant asteroid which is being speculated to ram into Earth soon, is going to do no such thing, NASA reassures.

The asteroid designated '2016 NF23' is 70 meters tall and 160 meters wide — a smidge larger than two Airbus A380s placed end-to-end, and due to fly-by the Earth at a speed of 500 kilometers per second according to NASA.

While the asteroid is technically classified as a near-Earth object (NEO) in NASA's database, such a designation fits any 'comet' or 'asteroid' that comes within 200 million kilometres of our planet.

2016 NF3 is due to make its close approach from a comfortable 4.8 million kilometres of the Earth (that's roughly 13 lunar distances) away according to predictions made with "reasonably low uncertainty" by the space agency.

Representational image. Reuters.

Representational image. Reuters

NASA tracks a huge catalogue of objects that have been "nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets that allow them to enter the Earth's neighbourhood". The near-Earth objects (NEOs) that NASA keeps a close eye on are the “potentially hazardous asteroids” (PHAs) that threaten a collision with Earth.

2016 NF23 has gathered attention for its size, its relatively close approach to our part of the solar system, and the last parameter used by astronomers called the 'absolute magnitude' — a measure of an object's brightness when observed from a standard vantage point. The absolute magnitude of 2016 NF23 is 22.9 — just about dim enough to keep scientists from sounding alarms and suiting up for an Armageddon.

There are others that come much closer, for instance, the 2018 PU23 — a tiny asteroid about 6 meters in diameter that passes by within 8 lunar distances (distance between the Earth and Moon) on the 23 August.

The 2016 NF23 asteroid's position on 27 August visualised in the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab Small-Body Database Viewer. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL

A second visiting NEO — and one that NASA has been watching since it was first discovered in 1998 — is the suggestively-named '1998 SD9', which is expected to make a much closer pass at us from 4 lunar distances away.

An additional assurance comes from a NASA statement updated late last year: "No asteroid currently known, is predicted to impact Earth for the next 100 years."

The space organisation has put a plan in place to protect the planet from objects that threaten impact after our close encounter with the football field-sized asteroid 2018 GE3 earlier this year. They're calling it "National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan". It elaborates on five strategies including better detection and tracking of NEOs, technologies to deflect a PHA, improving models and predictions made about NEOs, boosting cooperation and contingency plans for NEOs on an international level, and stronger procedures in place for an inevitable impact.

Rest assured, NASA isn’t sounding alarms for an end-of-the-world-by-asteroid collision anytime soon.

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