Asteroid 2013 TX68 will fly by our neck of the woods again next week. A few years ago, the 100-foot diameter asteroid flew by at a distance of 1.3 million miles. 2013 TX68 will soar past Earth again on March 8th.
New data from the Pan-STARRS asteroid survey pushed the flyby date back from March 5 to March 8. Astronomers also know more about the small asteroid’s orbit path.
“We already knew this asteroid, 2013 TX68, would safely fly past Earth in early March, but this additional data allow us to get a better handle on its orbital path,” said Paul Chodas, manager of CNEOS. “The data indicate that this small asteroid will probably pass much farther away from Earth than previously thought.”
Here’s what the new orbit path for 2013 TX68 looks like.
You can see the asteroid comes close to Earth, but how close is it really? Armed with new data, CENOS believes it will be about 3 million miles away from Earth at its closest. They can’t rule out a closer encounter, but the asteroid will be “certainly no closer than 15,000 miles above Earth’s surface,” according to NASA’s JPL. Good news for us, bad news if you want to see the asteroid with a telescope.
“There is no concern whatsoever regarding this asteroid – unless you were interested in seeing it with a telescope,” said Chodas. “Prospects for observing this asteroid, which were not very good to begin with, are now even worse because the asteroid is likely to be farther away, and therefore dimmer than previously believed.”
To put that 15,000 miles in perspective, the distance between the Earth and the Moon is 238,900 miles.
What if 2013 TX68 hit Earth?
Let’s play ‘what if.’ Astronomers estimate asteroid 2013 TX68 is about 100 feet in diameter. The last ‘major’ asteroid/meteor to impact Earth affected Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013. That event produced an air burst causing light damage to buildings (broken glass) and hundreds of injuries (broken glass, eye problems and even ultraviolet burns similar to sunburn).
The Chelyabinsk meteor was about 65 feet wide. Astronomers believe if 2013 TX68 entered the Earth’s atmosphere, it would produce an air burst with nearly twice the energy of the Chelyabinsk meteor. It wouldn’t be catastrophic, but it would cause similar damage and injuries over a populated area like the Chelyabinsk meteor did.
Asteroid fly bys happen all the time
Asteroid 2013 TX68 isn’t an abnormal event. Asteroids ranging from 50 feet to 100 feet fly past Earth all the time. Four asteroids are passing between 246,000 miles and 3.4 million miles just today. You can keep up with all the past and future close approaches via the Near Earth Object program web page.
NASA never seems concerned, but when would they be? Probably never, but they do classify asteroids larger than 150 meters (about 500 feet) within 4.6 million miles (or 19.5 times the distance between Earth and the moon) as a “potentially hazardous object.”
The only reason I bring up the distance between Earth and the moon is because the Near Earth Object program uses LD (lunar distance) as one of its measurements. So head on over to the page and see if you can find a “potentially hazardous object.” A quick peek shows plenty of asteroids potentially larger than 100 meters in diameter, but none within 19.5 LDs.